One front-page headline in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette this morning was good news to me. It was on Cynthia Howell’s article that former Little Rock School Board member Baker Kurrus had been named by state Education Commissioner Tony Wood to lead a committee on district finances.
The state has taken over the school district, nominally because six of its four dozen schools fall short of the 50 percent proficiency standard on annual testing. (The district as a whole is well over the mark.) But underlying the decision for the state to step in was a belief that the district, though not yet in fiscal distress, had not moved sufficiently to trim staff and plan for the loss of $70 million a year in state desegregation aid.
Kurrus has been among those behind the scenes raising an alarm about this issue. He knows whereof he speaks, both as a successful lawyer and businessman and a 12-year veteran of the school board. (I erroneously wrote 15 years initially.)
Kurrus’ involvement won’t be unanimously praised, I’d guess. Civil rights lawyer John Walker often disagreed with Kurrus on divisive issues. Not that that matters any more. Tony Wood is the school board now.
I’m heartened by it. Kurrus knows the subject. He’s an honest broker. He’s acknowledged the shortcomings of a string of poor superintendents. He hasn’t enlisted blindly in the Billionaire Boys Club agenda to privatize Little Rock schools. He’s even spoken against the ill effects of the Walton-financed charter movement in several cases. But he also was a strong advocate for building schools in the growing part of western Little Rock, a subject that didn’t endear him to John Walker.
Kurrus’ kids went to public schools. I just had lunch last week with his wife, Ginny, who’s working on the steering committee of the Rockefeller-Walton-state Board of Education Forward Arkansas initiative to look for school improvement ideas.
And, finally, he wrote a memorable cover story for the Arkansas Times about his school board tenure that remains worth reading for any who care about the state’s largest former school district.