KTHV reports on open unhappiness
at UA-Little Rock over the eStem charter high school on campus.

The high school kids cram the campus during the day, congesting dining and other facilities, among other complaints.

“We’re a campus and we’re a research university. We’re not a high school,” said Dr. Andrew Rogerson, chancellor of UA-Little Rock. “Our facilities now, it’s becoming evident with just 500 high school students, we are overcrowded and it’s causing problems for our own students.”

Rogerson predecessors conceived giving the stem-focused high school students a leg up toward college about five years ago. The schools broke ground in 2016 and the first class started in 2017. Traffic complaints and crowded cafeterias have faculty leaders raising alarms and students signing petitions.

“It definitely is a problem and I know that our students are definitely feeling the discomfort of the congestion in our shared spaces,” said Dr. Amanda Nolen, an education professor and president of the Faculty Senate. “There’s benefit for both institutions where both could grow the partnership. Right now it feels unbalanced and strained.”

Response from John Bacon, leader of eStem, which has been richly supported from its inception by, among others, the Walton Family Foundation boils down to this:

“We’re not planning to scale back. We have students that are in our system in our elementaries and junior highs and as those students matriculate toward high school the numbers will be there.”

Spoken like a man who believes he controls the balance of power.

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This isn’t new tension. The faculty has expressed concern for a long time and there’s lingering unhappiness that former Chancellor Joel Anderson struck the deal with eStem without consulting others. UA-Little Rock’s open criticism suggests efforts to do anything about the problems have yet to produce much. A new dining facility would take money, for example, and it’s in short supply at the college campus, which is cutting its budget and coping with enrollment declines.

We reported on a private consultant’s report in October that outlined possible solutions to crowded common facilities; the noise of a high school campus amid a campus with many non-traditional students; the lack of a draw in the high school for future college students; limitations on use of the high school by college education students because it is exempted from state licensing standards, and more.

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UA-Little Rock faces a tough PR battle. If much more is written and spoken about this, I expect the editorial page of the Democrat-Gazette — controlled by charter school- and eStem-loving publisher Walter Hussman (who provided eStem with its initial facility) — to tell the UA-Little Rock academic crowd to relax and enjoy it, consultant’s report or no.

In Waltonsas, being a charter school means never having to say you’re sorry.

“The numbers will be there.” What a quote. It applies to Walton money, too.