Parents at Little Rock schools mentioned as closure targets by Superintendent Michael Poore have raised questions about letters encouraging them to sign up for different schools in the early enrollment period. That raises the question to them (though the letters say no decisions are final and public hearings are in progress), if the decisions have already been made.
Carver Magnet and Franklin and Wilson elementaries were listed as potential school closures, along with a pre-K center at Woodruff and relocation of Hamilton Academy.
I put the question to Pamela Smith of the Little Rock School District. Her response:
While no decision has been made to close a specific school, parents with children attending the potentially impacted sites were sent letters to apprise them of school choices, should their campus be repurposed.
The letters specifically stated that should a specific school be closed, parents of that school would be given preference, but they would still need to indicate their preference during the upcoming Open Enrollment process. This will assist with planning, should a closure/repurpose of building occur.
Such assurances haven’t assuaged some in the district, including several who think the closures aren’t necessary, such as Dr. Anika Whitfield, a district activist of long standing. She’s distributed a letter that includes the graphic shown above, produced by the Schott Foundation, which supports high quality public schools.
She notes that the state took over the district, not for financial reasons, but for academic deficiencies at six of 48 schools. She questions whether closures save money, after relocation costs, renovation of alternative schools, transportation and potential capture of old school buildings at bargain prices by still more charter schools that leach students from the district.
Elementary schools in the LRSD are being threatened to be closed even though they have characteristics of what most “successful schools” embody: small class sizes, low Teacher:Student ratios, community involvement, increase in parental participation and community support, age specific recreational areas for physical acitivites, and environments were children feel loved and supported.
Why even suggest school closures?
What would come of a school like Franklin if you closed it? Would it get sold to one of the private charter schools or church in our city? Would you dare attempt to take away public dollars and children from public schools and place them in the hands of private companies/entities?
The letter Whitfield circulated has drawn a hearty “amen” from Marion Humphrey, the Presbyterian pastor, lawyer and retired circuit judge who’s part of the legal challenge of the district takeover. He sent a letter to the people Whitfield had written that said in part:
The whole takeover was a set-up. The takeover was designed to remove the duly-elected majority-black school board and replace it with some kind of structure that would be favorable to having the Waltons and other well-to-do persons seize the public money and put a chunk of it in their greedy—-yes, greedy—- pockets. According to the Daily Kos, the Walton heirs joined with representatives of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in March of 2015 in an effort to assist hedge funds—-yes, hedge funds—-figure out how to seize public tax money for private use and gain in the expansion of charter schools. ” The event was called ‘Bonds and Blackboards: Investing in Charter Schools.”
The children and patrons of the Little Rock School District are pawns in the scheme that the Waltons are promoting. Most of the members of the State Board of Education are simply doing the dirty work for the Waltons.
The Waltons buy up public policies in the form of legislative acts and executive decisions that allow these investors to carry out their schemes.
These people could care less what the patrons of this school district think about what they are doing. They are arrogant, and they are used to getting—-and taking—- what they want.
Humphrey and Whitfield are minority voices in multiple senses of the word in Arkansas today. But they are not alone. And when the Walton Foundation plan to upend conventional public school districts is understood to be about more than Little Rock, they might have still more company. Particularly when you consider how little positive in education innovation and attainment can be shown by charter schools and voucher recipients against conventional public schools.