Thursday, May 19, 2011

Judge orders end to state payment for Pulaski desegregation

Posted By on Thu, May 19, 2011 at 3:43 PM

ABSURD: Judge Brian Miller orders end to state desegregation payments.
  • 'ABSURD': Judge Brian Miller orders end to state desegregation payments.
Federal Judge Brian Miller ruled today on petitions by the North Little Rock and Pulaski County school districts to be declared "unitary" — or desegregated as defined by the federal court. He approved both petitions, but with exceptions — as to staff recruitment in the North Little Rock School District and, in the Pulaski District, as to student assignment; advanced placement, gifted and talented and honors programs; discipline; school facilities; scholarships; special education; staff; student achievement; and monitoring. So court supervision will continue in those areas.

Despite these shortcomings — in a somewhat perverse way, because of them — the judge said in a 110-page ruling that it was time to END state payments to aid desegregation in the North Little Rock, Pulaski and Little Rock school districts, except money for so-called M-to-M transfers. In these transfers, for example, a white student transfers from a majority white school district to a majority black one. But he's open to ending that money, too. Magnet school support remains an unanswered question. The school districts have argued in the past that these interdistrict schools, generally in inner cities with racial enrollment percentage guidelines, were a permanent state obligation.

The state is paying about $70 million a year to the three districts now. That's enough (IF all went to schools, which it wouldn't, less than half would) to free about $140 per student per year in all Arkansas schools. But roughly 10 percent of that would still be claimed by public school students in Pulaski County.

Miller said the money served as an incentive to the districts not to achieve desegregation goals and get out of court.

Legislators are already cheering the ruling. More to come as I read and report further.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel will gloat (and silently say a prayer of thanksgiving that all parties didn't buy into his offer some time ago for a multi-year phaseout of deseg spending, as opposed to this abrupt end.)

UPDATE: McDaniel declined to answer any questions (M-to-M; magnet schools) and for once didn't beat his chest. His statement:

"This is a significant milestone in this long-running case, with critical implications for the students in Pulaski County and the people of Arkansas. I continue to be focused on the educational needs of the children in these districts, as well as the financial implications of this case on the taxpayers of the State as a whole.

"The Court has recognized that we must change a broken system in order to better serve our children. I am committed to working with the districts, the Governor, and the Department of Education to ensure the fiscal stability of these districts and a quality education for their students."

Right. He's committed to beating up on Pulaski County because it's good gubernatorial politics. If he gave a damn, he'd be opposing resegregation here and fighting in all the other districts where the state has failed districts and students.

Gov. Mike Beebe is pleased, naturally.

The Pulaski School Superintendent Charles Hopson said:

“We received Judge Brian Miller’s ruling related to unitary status in its desegregation case late today, and legal counsel for the District has expressed keen disappointment and surprise at certain aspects of the ruling. A more definitive response will have to await further analysis and consultation with other counsel in the case. Most surprising, however, was the court’s decision to apparently suspend or end most of the state funding to the three Pulaski County districts. However, it is unclear where that leaves the magnet school program in which the districts are obligated to participate.

PCSSD will need to undertake an immediate analysis to determine what to do in the short term including how to respond to the Court’s order regarding the M-to-M program, whether to seek a stay, whether to appeal and related issues

The decision has implications likely stretching beyond the initial rulings it conveys.”.

Said LR School District attorney Chris Heller:

The order says the State is "released from it's obligation to pay for any and all ,,, desegregation efforts" except M to M transfers. That would seem to end funding for Magnet schools, but I want to ask for clarification to be sure the Court intended that result without mentioning Magnets in the order and without a hearing on the issue.

The NLR School District saw nothing but good news in being released from court supervision in all but one area, staff recruitment. Money? Who's worried about money in a district that needs a huge tax increase for a giant building plan?

Said its release: "The North Little Rock School District received some good news this afternoon! North Little Rockpetition to be released from the Desegregation lawsuit was granted by Judge Brian Miller in the areas of" .... (everything but staff recruitment.)

The order from Judge Miller indicates the State of Arkansas is released from its obligation to pay for any and all desegregation efforts, except for those associated with M-to-M transfers. Ken Kirspel, Superintendent of Schools, along with Bobby Acklin, Assistant Superintendent for Desegregation, and other District administrators are consulting with Steve Jones, of Jack Nelson Jones Bryant, to seek clarification of the order.

Any party can appeal this ruling. John Walker, attorney for black plaintiffs in the case, said he's not likely to appeal, however. "Money was not my issue," he said. He said the ruling upheld his arguments that both North Little Rock and Pulaski County still had deficiencies that required court supervision. "We showed them they are not unitary."

He acknowledged the end of state support will create problems for the districts. "The school districts are going to have to go to an austerity budget and they can no longer simply give money away because somebody liked somebody," he said. This is a reference to Walker's belief that school administrators have been guilty of padding payrolls with friends and family.

Walker noted the open question about continued state support of magnet schools.

Here's the text of the opinion, which opens with some plain-spoken criticism of witnesses produced by several parties to the case, particularly some he took to be pandering to the fact that he is black.

Judge Miller says that rewarding the districts with state money for failing to eradicate the achievement gap between white and black students is an "absurd outcome."

Indeed, if a district fails to comply and remains under court supervision, it stands the chance that it will continue to obtain millions of dollars in additional state funds to pay for various programs. If a district actually complies with its desegregation obligations and is found unitary, it faces the likelihood that the state will ask the court to discontinue the state's obligation to pay for the various programs that are funded with desegregation funds.

It seems that the State of Arkansas is using a carrot and stick approach with these districts but that the districts are wise mules that have learned how to eat the carrot and sit down on the job. The time has finally come for all carrots to be put away. These mules must now either pull their proverbial carts on their own or face a very heavy and punitive stick.

For these reasons, the State of Arkansas is hereby released from its obligation to pay for any and all of the North Little Rock School District's, the Pulaski County Special School District's, and the Little Rock School District's desegregation efforts, except for those associated with M-to-M transfers. Further, Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County are hereby ordered to show cause why the State of Arkansas should not be ordered
to stop funding for M-to-M transfers. Each district has thirty days from the entry of this order to file a ten page brief on this issue.

Those reading this order should not mistake the court's opinion. In no way is the State of Arkansas given credit or "brownie points" for providing funds to the districts to help them desegregate. Further, no sympathy is given the state for having to pay the funds that it has paid. It must be clear that the State of Arkansas has unclean hands. Its history is steeped in segregation of schools as well as other public accommodations. Indeed, but for
the discriminatory actions of the State ofArkansas and Governor Faubus, the school districts at issue would be much further along the road to fully desegregating.

Notwithstanding these points, this court is confronted with determining the most prudent course that must be taken to assure that these districts desegregate. And, it seems that it is time to move in a different direction; toward punishing dilatory behavior and away from rewarding it.

But what is that punishment to be, beyond withholding of additional money? Will the judge pull out a paddle and spank someone? And how will the state be punished, if after being released of any payment obligations, it goes its merry way in encouraging more segregation by allowing creation of special schools to skim better students from the three public school districts? I'm not surprised by a judge deciding at this late point to bring a close to the process, but given the judge's clear feeling that the districts continue to fall short in important areas, his solution seems to be simply this — fix it. Perhaps he'll take over and run the districts if — given less money, a drain of students and the harsh realities of a nationwide inability to find replicable means to lift significant numbers of disadvantaged students — they fail.

This is a screwy decision in many respects.

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