Brian Chilson
‘BAIT AND SWITCH’: The audience wasn’t happy after the state Board of Education pulled the rug out from under what proved to be a false promise of return of local control.

Morning brings no fresh perspective on the orchestrated betrayal of the Little Rock School District Thursday by the state Board of Education.

The plan, it turned out, was to offer a fig leaf of retreat from a segregated district framework proposal and then, as the meeting closed with State Police ordering people to shut up, to bust the teachers union. Other late-arriving details indicated a promise of local control was likely an empty one. And so the deed was done by a board and Education Department controlled by Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Any other school district that thinks this is just a Little Rock issue better start paying closer attention.

The Hutchinson administration, working in tandem with Walton Family Foundation-financed forces and allies (notably Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman), orchestrated a plan that begs residents of the district to distrust Board member Chad Pekron’s seeming initial peace offering of a return of local control. They’ve breached repeatedly while failing at running the school district for five years.

A puppet community advisory board larded with Hutchinson-oriented members, remains in place. Board chair Diane Zook declared the district remains judged in academic distress, despite progress and dozens of non-failing schools. That means the board has power under an improvidently broad state law to do whatever, whenever it wants to the district. For example, should a new school board overcome Walton influence and elect a board willing to negotiation with the Little Rock Education Association in 2021, the state board could quickly dispense with THAT idea.

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Zook, the Madame Chiang of Arkansas education, also mentioned the idea of using at-large seats if an elected Little Rock School Board expands from seven to nine members as a new Republican-inspired state law allows. This, of course, would be designed to keep power out of the hands of poor, black neighborhoods, just as the Little Rock City Board election plan operates.

The union-busters hope for a strike. They believe it would cleave the inspiring coalition of Little Rock people that rose up against the plan to segregate the district into haves and have nots, black and white.

With school assignment plans, school board zones, changed school formats and many more important issues lying ahead, the state Board of Education (and the malignant money behind it) sent thousands of fervent Little Rock School District supporters a clear message yesterday: We’re in charge. Shut up or will sic state cops on you.

And who is in charge? Blogger Cathy Frye has some thoughts on that in the fourth installment of her series on her time working for a Walton-funded charter school lobby, the Arkansas Public School Resource Center. It’s a commentary on yesterday’s state action.

Remember, the Waltons have invested millions in organizations that lobby specifically for the Arkansas school -“choice” movement. Despite today’s vote to reinstate local control, the Walton Family Foundation will persist in its efforts to dismantle LRSD and other districts that might appeal to charter-school leaders and the private-school crowd.

 

Again, they don’t just want your students and the funding that follows them. They want your facilities. (More on that below.)

 

Right now, given public sentiment, the Waltons will let things quiet down. But you can bet that the various nonprofits that they fund already are stepping up their behind-the-scenes efforts to get their projects back on track.

Diane Zook insisted yesterday she had no charterization plans (though her nephew Gary Newton has worked tirelessly for that Walton aim at a healthy pay of some $250,000 for years.) Believe anything she says at your peril.

Frye outlines likely new forays against Little Rock and others and also suggests some strategies to fight back Funny to read her account of how her boss refused to invite Sens. Joyce Elliott and Linda Chesterfield to their conferences. Not surprising, but funny. He’s scared of them, she says. Strong, independent women will do that to Republican menfolk.

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Teresa Gordon, president of the LREA, pretty well summarized yesterday’s state Board of Education action in six posts on her Twitter account. She said:

The Board was deceptive.

The bifurcated actions with a closing sneak attack on teachers was designed to divide the community.

The state Board intends to retain effective control after election of a school board in 2020.

The state Board waived laws intended to give teachers a meaningful voice in district personnel policy committees.

A promise of a “memo of understanding” between Little Rock and state was vague by design.  Continuation of “distress” status and continuation of the community advisory board don’t bode well for true local control.

In sum, she wrote:

Today, the AR State Board pulled a Bait and Switch, one of the oldest tricks in the book.

Drinks are on the Waltons.

PS: I’m still waiting to hear from Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr., given first chance yesterday afternoon to praise Republican Chad Pekron’s supposed “unity” motion. He spoke before further multiple damaging indicators emerged in addition to the firing of the teachers union, without stated cause or need for urgency or explanation of why that couldn’t be left to a real school board.

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The picture at the top doesn’t look like the unity Scott so often invokes.

UPDATE: Courtesy of the Associated Press, which quoted Gov. Hutchinson as praising his board for making a “tough” decision.

“I’m confident the action to keep the LRSD unified will unite our efforts and balance the local support with state support,” he said in a statement. “This is an opportunity to partner with the district in a way that will continue state support along with the efforts of a locally elected school board, the private sector partners and the city.”

This simply bull. There is no unity. This is the union-busting and district takeover he promised Walter Hussman in a private meeting early in his term, according to a reliable source. Delivery took a while, but here we are.