Around noon today, a small group of protesters gathered in front of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce to point out the influence of local business leaders in the state’s decision to take over the Little Rock School District in January. Former LRSD board members Joy Springer and Jim Ross were among those present, as was Rep. John Walker.
Ross said the group chose the site in question because “the Chamber was central in the takeover .. it seemed like an appropriate place to remind them that black folks and like minded reformers aren’t going away, aren’t going to quit, and that we plan to call them out.” He noted that a number of local realtors were among those pushing the State Board of Education to take over the district, and that state board member Diane Zook — the loudest takeover advocate on that panel — is married to Randy Zook, head of the state chamber.
“They step in just when it gets scary for them — when they no longer have control,” Ross said. “We just want to remind them that the city’s more than just the business community … we’ve been here for a long time.”
Springer said, “they saw that this school board was going to do what was right — what was ordered many, many years ago. Back when the court ordered that the schools be desegregated, the city fathers stepped forward and delayed implementation of the consent order … so once again, we’re having history repeat itself.”
“You had a school board that was dedicated to meeting the needs of all the children, particularly African American, Latino and poor children … It’s really race discrimination, because those with white privilege want to maintain control over everything.”
Such is the vast gulf between the two sides’ perceptions. Proponents of takeover see themselves as saving the children of Little Rock — including poor and minority kids — from the dysfunction of a perennially broken district. They characterize Springer and Ross as representatives of the status quo. Springer and Ross saw themselves as change agents, though, who were going to finally make good on the district’s decades of broken promises to poor children and African American families. They maintain that their board had the right plan to turn around the LRSD — and that the state takeover has yet to produce any sort of coherent plan.
Still, even for those of us sympathetic to those arguments, its hard to see what can be done about the takeover given the political realities of Arkansas.
I asked Springer and Ross whether it was feasible to demand the state return local control of the district, given that Gov. Asa Hutchinson is unlikely to come around to their way of seeing things anytime soon. Both pointed out that the decision for takeover came from the state board, not the governor.
“The state can vote to return the members of the [local] board back to their positions,” Springer said. “They can do it with a simple vote. That can take place. They could do it this week. The same way that they took this action, they can put it back.”