DISCUSSING SCHOOLS: Johnny Key (right) and Skip Rutherford.

State Education Commissioner Johnny Key
said today that he’d predict an election for a Little Rock school board sometime in 2018. Depending.

Key was asked the question by Clinton School Dean Skip Rutherford during a noon program at the Clinton School. Rutherford asked for a prediction on the earliest possible date for return of local control.


A new state law sets a different review procedure for schools in academic distress. Little Rock was taken over on account of substandard tests scores at a handful of its 48 schools. A new law requires a broader assessment of a district on academic, finances, services and facilities. That process should be completed in November. That could mean a school election as early as May if the state Board of Education approves, but more likely November Key indicated.

“I don’t know if they’ll be ready by May, possibly  November, depending on what we find and what the state board determines.” He said he didn’t think Little Rock would have to wait five years, as Pulaski County school district voters did, to again have democratic control. The takeover vote was in January 2015. A November 2018 vote for a new school board would be two months short of a four-year period.


Rutherford pressed Key on a couple of related issues. He noted that the takeover was prompted in part by complaints about the majority black School Board “micromanaging” Superintendent Dexter Suggs. What’s the difference, Rutherford asked, in that micromanagement than actions by key and the state Board to override wishes of Superintendent Baker Kurrus (fired by Key) and now Michael Poore in asking for a halt in charter school proliferation. Key said it was different because the state board had to balance control of Little Rock with state policy interests and those often clashed, not just in Little Rock, with local interests.

Rutherford also asked about criticism that the state hadn’t met a charter school it didn’t like when it came to Little Rock. Key disagreed. But he offered a bad example. That was the time a department panel recommended revocation of the charter of Covenant Keepers because of persistently poor performance, which was overridden by the state Board. But Key defended the continued expansion of charter school seats in Little Rock by the demand of families for different education opportunities. I’d have asked a followup on how the board determined that these unproven applicants offered a better opportunity than some proven good work in the Little Rock School District.


I had a brief Twitter exchange with Key yesterday. He lauded Gloria Ray Karlmark’s touching remembrance about wondering whether anyone would sign her Central High yearbook in 1958, after her year as a desegregation pioneer. I said I liked Thelma Mothershed Wair’s remark of concern about proliferating charter schools. He responded by quoting Elizabeth Eckford’s hope for a day of non-accusatory dialogue. Who’s accusing, I responded. I also ommented that voters in the Little Rock School District would appreciate dialogue of any sort with the person (Key) running their school district. No response. And, as yet, there’s never been an  open Q&A between Key and people who live by his decisions in Little Rock. But he did take a question or so from Rutherford today. But there was no open audience questioning for the program.