What better way to build street cred with the fat cats who run Little Rock and Arkansas business than to trash the Little Rock School District, current object of a concerted state takeover campaign by the white business power structure. (You won’t find many black people — students, parents, school employees or people of influence — on the Chamber’s petition drive.)
So comes Scott Richardson, who was a Little Rock school district hatchet man for Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and now a partner in the Little Rock law firm from which McDaniel wants to make continued riches in private practice, given that his political career was ended by the Republican tsunami.
Richardson writes in a conveniently timed Talk Business piece that the state Board of Education CAN take over the Little Rock School District tomorrow using the template by which the Pulaski County School District was taken over.
Wrong, says Chris Heller, Little Rock’s lawyer but also plenty learned in the law.
Pulaski County was in fiscal distress.
The Little Rock School District is not.
Nor, despite the chamber’s alarums, is the entire district in ACADEMIC distress. Six schools are.
It would be arbitrary indeed for the state to take over the entire district when six of dozens of schools are judged in distress. But that’s what the Walton/Stephens/Hussman/Murphy godfathers want and the billionaires must be served.
What better way to attract legal clients than kiss up to the Billionaire Boys Club?
Richardson is working the refs to help his new law firm. Fine. A fair process allows an adversary to be heard. Heller said this in an e-mail I received from another party:
Scott contends that an Arkansas Supreme Court decision (Fitzgiven v. Dorey, 2013 Ark. 346) concerning PCSSD’s fiscal distress shows that the SBE has full authority to take over LRSD. Scott is wrong. The facts were very different from our case (e.g. no distinction in fiscal distress law between schools and school districts; plaintiffs were not challenging SBE’s authority to take over the district – they were trying to limit ADE’s actions after the takeover and consequently lost on sovereign immunity). There was no dispute that PCSSD was in fiscal distress. There is no dispute that LRSD is not in academic distress. The case actually helps us with its holding that “a state agency may be enjoined if it can be shown that the agency’s action is ultra vires or outside the authority of the agency. A state agency may also be enjoined from acting arbitrarily, capriciously in bad faith or on a wantonly injurious manner.” This looks like another part of the effort to influence the SBE, especially since no one asked Khay or me for our side of the argument.
The state Education Department and the political power structure hates the Little Rock School District and fears the poor black people who constitute its majority (good example: Heights School Board Member Leslie Fisken was the only school board member absent last night). Most of them don’t care to hear what they have to say, resenting the money the district has received on account of years of official state discrimination. I think the state Board of Education will be fairer arbiters.
But I’d still say a takeover vote enjoys a small edge in the odds-making. There will be a compromise proposal to give the state strong oversight of the six schools. I think there are at least three, maybe four, firm votes for a takeover, most with varying degrees of financial ties to the Walton fortune. I think there are two to three votes for giving the Little Rock School District and its recently demonstrated commitment to change a chance, with strong, specific expectations and strong oversight (which the state has not provided previously.) I see two to three members as swing votes, including Chairman Sam Ledbetter, who votes only in case of ties. The Board has nine members.
There are strong arguments for takeover, even for those who have no truck with the Waltons’ charter school agenda for Little Rock. There are strong arguments for preservation of democratic control. I’m glad I’m not voting.
School Board member Jim Ross convinced me with his passionate remarks last night that the Board is serious about no longer tolerating poor principals who don’t get rid of bad teachers and a teacher corps overpopulated in difficult schools by substitutes and alternative certification teachers. (Please remember that these staffing decisions are NOT the work of the hated teachers union, John Walker or the School Board. They are administrative responsibilities. And state oversight failed, too.) Superintendent Dexter Suggs didn’t even attend last night’s public hearing at which students, parents, teachers and others pleaded for both local control and help for students who need it most.
High drama tomorrow morning, beginning at 10 a.m., if Little Rock schools, education policy and the failure here and everywhere to lift poor minority students interests you.
If the state takes over Little Rock on this pretext, lawsuits will follow. The state may defeat John Walker this time, but they’ll have sent an indelible message that rich white folks know what’s best for poor black folks, no matter how much the less fortunate protest.