Hundreds gave up an hour of a glorious spring day to rally at the Capitol Saturday to protest the Asa Hutchinson administration firing of Baker Kurrus as Little Rock school superintendent and call for restoration of local control to the state’s largest school district.
You can get all the background in this week’s cover story
The aims of the organizers are these:
* Reinstate Kurrus, who gave the district a year of stability and progress.
* Call a moratorium on continued expansion of charter schools, which — though unproven as academic powerhouses, with many lagging behind Little Rock schools with far more problematic student populations — have leached hundreds of achieving students from the district.
* Give control of the Little Rock School District back to local voters.
I can tell you that holding your breath for any of this from the Hutchinson administration is a death sentence. Hutchinson and Education Commissioner Johnny Key are fully bought into — and bought by — the billionaire Walton education strategy. Bust unions. Allow free transfer of all students regardless of circumstances. Encourage charter schools. Encourage voucher programs. Grab the students and property tax wealth in Little Rock for a grand experiment. Kurrus resisted the damaging charter school explosion here. For that reason — not to mention being friendly to union members though he brought a much-diminished contract — he’s gone.
Benji Hardy will have more detailed notes later. A roster of speakers decried the state takeover and praised Kurrus for his child-level work. Control of the schools by the Waltons and Northwest Arkansas was a popular theme. “Our kids aren’t blue light specials,” was one rallying cry.
Speakers included two senators, Linda Chesterfield and Joyce Elliott, and former Sen. John Riggs, a curious inclusion. He’s a former school board member, but he was among the corporate voices who joined in the movement that ended in the ouster of the Little Rock School Board, which in turn brought us to this calamitous pass. He spoke admiringly — and quoted extensively — Kurrus’ philosophy. Students, teachers and community activists added their voices. It was nice to be among friends and the like-minded, even if results seem elusive at this point. Speakers urged the crowd to continue the protest — to call the governor and to call Johnny Key. They should call the Walton Family Foundation or Jim Walton at Arvest Bank if they wanted greater influence, but good luck getting through. Their interest in Little Rock voters is nil.
Noted: Mayor Mark Stodola spoke against Kurrus’ removal. The best I can say is: better late than never, but he can sniff a parade to lead as well as Mike Huckabee ever could. The City Board of Directors has been criminally derelict in helping Little Rock schools for years. If Stodola, whose own children went to private school, means what he says, he’d have stood by Kurrus’ side when he raised questions about the charter school expansions before the state Board of Education. He did not. Indeed, he also could have condemned Board members Joan Adcock and Lance Hines for speaking in favor of the district-damaging charter moves. He did not. Those directors are among many who’ve rarely had good things to say about the LRSD — or anything at all. The City Board resolution last week in support of Kurrus rings hollow in light of the record. I do except Director Kathy Webb, who spoke strongly today in support of Kurrus and against the takeover..
Kurrus wasn’t on hand. But his two daughters and a grandchild were.