Dr. Anika Whitfield, an enduring activist in the Little Rock School District, joins the opposition to a May 9 special election to add 14 years of payments of 12.4 property tax mills to support extended school district debt (cat a cumulative cost in additional taxes of more than $600 million).
First, that Education Commissioner Johnny Key, who controls the state-run district, and his chosen superintendent, Michael Poore, make decisions for the district without elected representation. There is an appointed civic advisory board, but Whitfield contends Key was careful to shape the board with people in favor of damaging charter school expansion (including a charter school employee originally). She faults Key for continuing to lobby for ways to replace traditional public schools.
In addition, Mr. Key has refused to meet in public settings to engage with parents and community members with questions ranging from school closures, community impact studies, plans for academic improvements in schools designated to be in academic distress, ways to assist traditional public schools in being more meaningful for the current students that attend the LRSD, and ways to help advertise, recruit, and promote the great programs and opportunities for students, parents, and teachers in the LRSD, just to name a few of his denied requests for public meetings.
Given the fact that Mr. Key is the current, sole board member of the LRSD, the only person who makes the final decisions for the LRSD, and the sole person who has the power to overrule Mr. Poore’s decisions, it would be unwise to hand more tax money over to this appointed leader who has shown little to no respect for the residents of Little Rock, the students (and their parents) who attend the LRSD, and who has publicly said that he would not being open to yielding to the LR City Board of Directors and Mayor to conduct neighborhood impact studies before closing schools, displacing students and school personnel, and taking away public, anchoring institutions from people who fund and support them.
Voting for the tax extension, she writes, ” would be like Walmart giving Target money and expecting to Target use those funds to improve Walmart’s business. Not going to happen. It would be like giving a thief keys to your home and expecting the thief to protect your home and possessions. Not a wise choice. I strongly encourage voters to Vote AGAINST the May 9th LRSD millage tax extension. “
Whitfield is among a number of prominent black people who have spoken out against the added taxation. This is, at least in part, lingering harsh feelings about the white business establishment that united behind the movement to oust the majority black school board and has again rallied to push the tax proposal to raise money controlled by Johnny Key. That group has clearly raised a significant sum of money — not yet reported — because glossy pro-tax mailings have already gone out targeting higher income neighborhoods that have historically been friends to school tax votes. Here’s the ugly truth of that campaign: They know it will be opposed in black neighborhoods. They expect the turnout in those neighborhoods to be small and to win by targeting select pockets in a special election with small turnout. Their backers include retired library director Bobby Roberts, who used just such targeted campaigns to good effect in library special tax elections. A high irony in this campaign is the fevered push by a Walton-paid lobbyist to rally people in the Roberts Elemetary/Pinnacle View neighborhood to show their appreciation for their new schools by turning out in numbers for the tax (the implicit message being that a high school will be soon to follow). The Walton lobby pushed for an end to special elections in the legislature. Bigger turnouts in regular elections are more democratic, they say.
Funny that they don’t like democracy much in the Little Rock School District.