There are no coincidences.
So I don’t think it’s a coincidence that representatives of the school “reform” machinery supported by the Walton Family Foundation at the University of Arkansas popped up today with an idea for control of the Little Rock School District.
Sarah McKenzie and Josh McGee of the Office of Education Policy at UA have written an op-ed in today’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in favor of putting Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. in charge of the district. This generally means, based on experience elsewhere, that he’d appoint and could remove members of the school board. They argue this has worked well in some other cities. They also concede it hasn’t been successful in others.
The idea of mayoral control of the board SHOULD be a non-starter. It would NOT be a return to democratic control of the district.
I’m not sure it would be legal under Arkansas law. It doesn’t mean it won’t happen. The Walton influence on the governor is mighty. He controls the Education Department and the Board of Education. He’s been very chummy with the mayor, as have many other Republicans.
There are other reasons for not rushing to form a parade for this idea.
For one thing, the Little Rock School District is not contiguous with the much larger city of Little Rock. If developers pushing segregated housing patterns hadn’t been in charge, the district and city would be the same. But they aren’t.
For another, Frank Scott has plenty of fish to fry as mayor. He is already tussling with a split city board on some of his ideas. The notion that he alone promises unity as dictator of the local school district is wishful thinking. His promise of an expanded police force, a reimagining of city parks and a host of other ideas (including a recent talk-fest on the laudable idea of broader out-of-school services for kids) are all little more than talk as long as the city struggles financially.
Finally, Scott is too friendly to the charter school lobby. His church once provided space for a charter school (Covenant Keepers, closed in utter financial and academic disarray). His first days in office included visits to charter schools, including with charter school backer Walter Hussman, whose newspaper endorsed Scott and whose op-ed page conveniently provided the Walton organization’s idea for putting Scott in charge in the newspaper today. It happens to be the day the state Board of Education began moving toward specific ideas of what to do about the Little Rock district when five years of failed state receivership ends in January.
Scott recently brought two major charter school districts to the table in his feel-good education session. CORRECTION: Charles Blake, the mayor’s chief of staff, said only one charter school was included in the school meeting.
Charter schools, as Scott’s mayoral foe and former school superintendent Baker Kurus has demonstrated with facts and figures, are inefficient and damaging to the Little Rock School District.
So, no. Count my lonely vote against a mayor-controlled Little Rock School Board. Regnat populus.
UPDATES: A supporter of the mayor says I should have specifically mentioned that the mayor has visited real public schools and included them in his meetings, too. Of course. And his paid chief of staff, Charles Blake, blasts me on Facebook, interpreting my criticism as sour grapes on account of my support of Baker Kurrus in the mayoral election. He notes that Scott issued a news release (not sent to me) in which Scott reiterated support for local control of the School District and an elected school board. It does not specifically respond to the idea of mayoral control, including an ability to remove school board members. Blake seems to suggest I supported Kurrus because he was an old white guy like me.
Gary Newton, the Walton-backed lobbyist, has touted the mayoral control plan on his Twitter account. And the Walton unit on Twitter loved Charles Blake’s assertion that I’m guilty of “disinformation” about the mayor.
Opinion on the Arkansas Times Facebook page is running strongly against the idea.