A couple of related issues will be discussed at the Little Rock City Board agenda session at 4 p.m. today — westward urban sprawl and the state of the public schools in the inner city.

* SCHOOLS: Michael Poore, superintendent of the state-controlled Little Rock School District, is scheduled to speak. He’s expected to talk about planned closure of four schools and possible plans for use of those closed facilities. Pending state legislation would require their use by charter school that wanted them, unless the district could come up with another use first. The closures — particularly of Franklin and Wilson elementariness, as well as as the Woodruff early childhood centers — have prompted a torrent of criticism from the neighborhoods. The district says the closures, plus a still-hazy change in housing of students of the alternative Hamilton Learning Academy, are required to save money.

Wendell Griffen, a circuit judge and Baptist pastor, has written on his blog today about Poore’s appearance. He urges attention to the meeting.

The effort to murder and cannibalize public education has been underway in this state for years. Civic and business leaders have been part of it (covertly and openly). Sixty years after 1957 – when Little Rock and Arkansas made world history because white supremacy tried to defy the claims of black people to justice in public education – political and business leaders of the capitol city and state of Arkansas appear poised to plunge their city and state to an even lower dimension of disgrace and shame.

This is a day when prophets must show up.

Prophets, write Griffen, are defiant and intrusive and needed at the national and local level these days.

I hope this afternoon becomes defined by prophetic people, not politicians and profiteers. I hope those prophetic people boldly confront, denounce, and condemn the brazen tyranny of the Arkansas Department of Education toward public education in general, and the black, brown, and lower income children, parents, patrons, and other stakeholders for public education in Little Rock specifically. Why? Because when prophets show up, tyrants and tyranny are challenged. 

As I’ve said before, the prophets should demand more than soothing words from Poore. They must demand answers from the ultimate boss, Education Commissioner Johnny Key, on building use, his continuing support for charter schools and whether he’ll fight designs on privatization of the district. To date, he’s refused public comments. Yet he wants a half-billion in additional taxes from residents of the Little Rock School District in a May election. Bland assurances from Poore don’t count. If voters get no representation of their interests from Key, they should resist 14 more years of taxation for potential benefit of private school operators.

* WESTWARD SPRAWL: The city’s galloping westward expansion over the years helped create the concentration of poverty and minorities in the inner city and certainly contributed to the shape of the Little Rock School District today, heavily poor and minority with the test scores that tend to track that demographic and seized by the state for low scores by, now, only three of 48 schools. The schools have also been hammered by the state’s unfailing support of student-draining charter schools.

Now, again, more sprawl is on the agenda. City Director Lance Hines, an enemy of the Little Rock School District and a proponent of measures such as expensive freeways to serve white-flight suburbs, will introduce a resolution to urge a study of extending city sewer service outside the city limits to areas within the city’s planning jurisdiction.

Republican Rep. Andy Davis, whose business is wastewater treatment, is currently pushing legislation to require the city to provide sewer service outside the city.

We’ve been down this road before — giving developers no-impact-fee help to develop and then letting everyone else pay down the line, or beggar the new areas of parks, adequate public safety protection and other services.

City activist Jim Lynch continues his long fight to sound the alarm . He’s written Mayor Mark Stodola to urge him to fight Davis’ legislation. He indicates Hines’ resolution is little more than “bogus” cover for the bigger issue. If Davis’ bill passes, any study will be meaningless. The city will have no choice but to give developers the sewer lines they want.

This proposed legislation is yet another attempt to wrest local control from our city and yield to the demands of land developers to provide our valuable wastewater (sewer) service to them on their terms. Without a doubt HB 1549 will directly cause more urban sprawl, drive up the cost of city services and make our great city unsustainable regarding environmental protection, urban planning and more taxes.

Little Rock already has a poor record yielding to the developer lobby and expanding into rural territory because developers want their cheap country real estate immediately transformed into higher priced urban lots. They make lots of money, city services must be spread over more square miles, existing neighborhoods must suffer dilution of service, Little Rock loses more of its natural beauty and taxes go higher.

Wastewater is the most expensive of city services to build, organize and deliver. Sewer lines must be buried deep in the ground to take advantage of gravity flow. Land developers will do almost anything to obtain city sewer and expand their speculative land deals. Only with sewer will urban development really occur
as compared to water or roads, each of which is relatively cheap to provide compared to wastewater.

Would you please stop HB 1549 in its tracks? 

Lynch tells the mayor the developers have always won. Will they again?