I asked Mike Poore, the Bentonville school superintendent transitioning to Little Rock school superintendent, if he had thoughts about Education Commissioner Johnny Key’s hurryup of a Walton-backed charter school expansion plan in Little Rock that got a rules waiver for consideration months earlier than normally would be allowed.
The Key hurryup clearance of review of 120 more seats for the poor-performing Little Rock Preparatory Academy followed by days the recent eStem and LISA charter school expansions, opposition to which got Baker Kurrus fired/non-renewed/told-to-be-gone from his Little Rock superintendent’s job. The latest expansion proposal was something of a shock to Little Rock school people, who thought Key might temper the charter push at least momentarily. Not likely. A Walton family enterprise bought the building targeted for use by the expanded school in August and it’s not earning any rent without a tenant.
Poore responded to my e-mail about the coming review of the Little Rock Prep hearing on May 18 by saying he is “learning as much as I can” about the request. He said he hadn’t received the documents on the expansion request yet and asked that I check back later for further.
It’s the first of what will be many tricky spots for Poore. His school board is Johnny Key. Key works for Asa Hutchinson and they both work tirelessly in support of the Walton school agenda. That agenda dictates that there’s no such thing as a charter school application not worth trying in the Little Rock School District.
Should Poore oppose an expansion, it risks rankling the powers that be in Little Rock (Key and Walton Family Foundation). Should he support it, he’ll appear a tool. Perhaps he can split the difference. He could also safely express measured reservations (along with a confident expression in the Little Rock District’s ability to continue to deliver better results than Little Rock Prep) with the safety of knowing that Key’s state Department employees and the Walton-controlled state Board of Education will approve the expansion in any case.
PS FOR TIMELINES: Little Rock Prep requested a waiver of rules to expand on April 7, the day after Key arranged the ouster of Kurrus and succession of Poore. He approved the waiver formally April 12. Without the waiver, Little Rock Prep would have had to wait until October. Key also waived the 35-day advance notice requirement for amendments to charter plans to be heard by the authorizing panel.
UPDATE: I’ve confirmed that construction on the work has been underway since early March by East Harding Construction. Van Tilbury, the East Harding CEO and past chair of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, confirmed that they were working for Arkansas Charter Partners, listed on the charter school application as being the entity that would lease the building to Little Rock Prep. Was he aware the project had not yet been approved by the state? He was. But he referred questions to Arkansas Charter Partners. He declined to identify who he was working with at Arkansas Charter Partners or provide any other information about them. Noted by Sen. Joyce Elliott: Tilbury was among those who testified before the state Board of Education in favor of the state takeover of the Little Rock School District. UPDATE: Charter Partners is a nonprofit affiliated with Exalt Education, a national school management corporation that will be paid $853,000 a year, or almost 17 percent of the school’s operating budget, for various management expenses. Exalt’s operations, as is typical with charter school operations, are shielded from the state Freedom of Information Act.
FYI: KLS Leasing, with Kathy Smith (KLS?) of the Walton Family Foundation signing the document, also acquired a former North Little Rock school for future use as a charter school. We haven’t seen the last of Walton efforts to hollow out local school districts just like they hollowed out the retail community.