The somewhat seedy saga in the campaign for District 35 state representative between Democrat Clarke Tucker and Republican Stacy Hurst drags on.
You’ll recall that Tucker had a press conference on Monday to slam Hurst for using Freedom of Information requests to the Little Rock School District to investigate details about the pre-k placement of Tucker’s 4-year-old child. Hurst said that the FOI requests were prompted by “rumors” she had heard “in social circles and cocktail party conversations.” Hurst said that a mailer discussing the Tuckers’ attempts to place their child in pre-k was inaccurate and she was trying to “correct the record…there has been a pattern.”
Now Hurst supporters are noting an email — one of the results of the GOP FOI request — which they say conflicts with the Tuckers’ account of what happened.
The back story (here’s the full detailed version): Tucker said that they applied to pre-k for their son, with Forest Park as their first choice and Fair Park as their second choice. On April 29, they received a letter from LRSD stating that there were no spots available in the district. No one disputes this. was accurate, strictly speaking: “Unfortunately, we received a letter early this summer informing us that the Little Rock School District was not able to place Ellis in a pre-k program due to limited space.” The wrinkle: On August 13, just before school was set to begin, the Tuckers got an email at the last minute offering a slot at Fair Park. The note, from Freddie Fields, LRSD Senior Director of Student Services, stated, “I have exactly one seat at Fair Park if you would like to claim it. I need to know immediately.” However, the Tuckers turned it down because by that time they had already enrolled him into Episcopal.
Now the second wrinkle: The Tuckers stated during the press conference that they had been in touch with LRSD in the months after receiving the initial letter and no slots were made available to them — until they got the last-minute note on August 13. A Hurst supporter contacted me to point out that in one of the FOI’d emails — from Dr. Karen James, director of the Elementary Literacy and Early Childhood Programs, to Fields and Beverly Griffin, a secretary to the superintendent — James suggests that the Tuckers were in fact offered a slot. James stated in the email, which was written on May 2, that she had spoken with Toni Tucker, Clarke’s wife, regarding pre-k placement: “To assist her, I did find and offer a seat at Brady, but the parent declined the seat stating she ‘only wants Forest Park.’ In addition, I offered to meet her and let her see the Brady Pre-K classrooms, meet the teachers, and the principal, but she is not interested.”
If James’s account is accurate, it conflicts with the Tuckers’ statement that they were not offered a slot until August 13. However, Tucker said that when his wife spoke to James, she was left with a very different impression: that James would look into Brady as a possible option, not that there was definitely a slot at Brady being offered. There is no record, to date, of any official offer to the Tuckers in writing. Tucker said that he recalled speaking with his wife after she spoke with James and that his wife did not believe a slot was being offered. “It would have been a completely different conversation as a family if we had been offered a slot,” he said. Throughout the summer, as far as they knew, there was no slot available, he said. The Tuckers dispute that Toni said she “only wants Forest Park” and note that they in fact applied to Fair Park as well as a second choice. James also stated in the letter that “she wants to have a way to have her child moved up on the waiting list.” Tucker said that they made no request for special treatment. “Toni never made that request of anybody,” he said. “Nobody in our family made that request of anybody. The main thing she was seeking at the time was an explanation of how the process worked — how the waiting list process worked to find out whether there was a realistic chance of our kid moving up the waiting list.”
So…there you have it. The Tuckers say they weren’t offered a public pre-k slot until August 13. Karen James (who does not work in student assignment) stated in an email in early May that she offered the Tuckers a slot at Brady. There’s no record of an official offer, so who knows.
I am starting to feel suspiciously like I have waded into a dispute between Heights country clubbers sniping at each other. Does anyone care? I leave it to you, readers. The FOI’d emails — from three Republican FOI requests, including a third filed Monday morning prior to Tucker’s press conference — are attached below.
Tucker stands by the point made in the mailer which is at the heart of this kerfuffle (though the GOP FOIs began prior to the release of the mailer). “At the end of the day the most important thing here is that there were nearly 200 more slots for applications in pre-k programs in the Little Rock School District than there were openings for pre-k slots in the Little Rock School District,” Tucker said. “We obviously had a difficult time in our family this summer with that process and that reinforced to me the importance of making sure that every 4-year-old child in Arkansas has access to a quality pre-k education program, and that was the purpose of sending that mail piece.”
Added Tucker, “Stacy Hurst believes that it’s acceptable to launch an investigation into my family and my 4-year-old son in order to play gotcha politics in a manner that degrades the process.”
Hurst has not responded to requests for comment. I’ll update this post if I hear from her. *UPDATE: Hurst sent a statement via email: “This has really gotten off track. This is not about a 4-year-old whom we all want to have a great education, just like we do for all of our children. This is about the misrepresentation of facts by Clarke Tucker. The emails directly contradict Clarke Tucker’s statements.”
*UPDATE 2: Hurst campaign consultant Clint Reed continues to push the issue on social media:
I have a feeling we haven’t heard the end of this, sadly (believe it or not, backers of both sides have made points to me even further deeper into the weeds than I have gotten into here).
One name that shows up a lot in these FOI emails is Leslie Fisken, a Little Rock School Board member. Fisken is a Hurst supporter who recently sent out a letter in support of the Hurst campaign. According to the Tuckers, they never contacted her about the matter. Why is Fisken in the middle of these discussions about Ellis’s placement? (For example, Freeman forwards her news about possible placements for Ellis, with a happy face; Fisken responded, “Interesting.”) It’s strange. We asked; she hasn’t responded.
Here is the email from Karen James. After the jump, you can see all of these FOI’d emails and FOI requests.
Here are the FOI’d emails. Read em and sleep: