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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Morning madness: Notes from all over

Posted By on Sat, Feb 16, 2013 at 6:30 AM

Some morning mail musings:

* THE UNIVERSITY OF MONEY: The University of Arkansas yesterday folded on fighting release of documents about multi-million-dollar overspending in its Advancement Division. It wouldn't admit it was wrong in calling these personnel records. It merely said the affected personnel had agreed to the release. The core of it is that a $340,000-a-year division chief hired 20 people that revenue didn't exist to pay. Spending was heading toward a $5 million deficit before the operation got reined in.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported on the released documents this morning. This left me a little sore because I had filed a Freedom of Information Act request for these same documents before the ADG filed the lawsuit that finally dislodged the papers. The UA was going to lose the lawsuit and damn sure didn't want a court precedent on the matter. So they coughed up the documents, but only to the D-G.

So where were the documents I requested? I fired off an e-mail to top flack John Diamond this morning. You could FOI it. I said the university decision to ignore my pending request for the same material in yesterday's release was "chickenshit." UA haughtiness and a devotion to money and power is hardly new (think selling parts of university to wealthy donors and keeping details secret). The more money you have, the more deference you get. Anyway, for your reading pleasure, here are the documents belatedly supplied to me.

* Letter to Democrat-Gazette on the release.

* Related documents:

* Parts One

* and Two

* and Three

* and Four

* and Five.

* EMOTIONAL TIMES: Rep. Mark McElroy, a Democrat from Tillar, was led from the House chamber yesterday after a disjointed speech. He apparently received some medical attention later. I've been unable to make direct contact, but legislative colleagues tell me, whatever the medical condition he suffered, events of recent days had troubled McElroy. I know exactly the feeling. Thursday, McElroy was visibly upset at an unexpected floor fight by Republicans to oppose an effort to allow the Arkansas Career Education Department to seek money to pay for GED tests. Arkansas has always paid the cost of testing people seeking equivalency diplomas. A change in the test is likely going to require an expensive fee increase, which is expected to discourage people from taking the test. Rep. Debra Hobbs of Rogers, particularly, railed against taxpayer help for these people. (She's built quite a record this session of sneering at money for the needy.) McElroy, who told colleagues he had a high school education himself, said he came to the legislature to help poor people. His speech yesterday followed a lengthy opening prayer, which he mentioned in his floor remarks, by Allen Jackson, a pastor of one of the Republican legislators. It's been described as overtly political. He spoke of the "tremendous victories" on anti-abortion and pro-gun bills and offered prayer for those who voted against such legislation. McElroy told colleagues I've spoken with afterward that he viewed prayer as a religious, not political exercise. Normally, you could view some of these happenings on the House video archives, but neither the portion of Thursday's session when the GED fight was waged nor any of yesterday's events are currently available.

UPDATE: I'm informed the videos should all be up by Monday. Thursday a mechanical glitch delayed posting of the GED nonsense. Also, I'm informed Rep. McElroy is receiving treatment at UAMS. Many others have talked to him or heard about the legislative pressure that added to whatever medical condition he's enduring. He's just about the only legislator to lose a bill this session on the floor — having been defeated in an effort to bring elemental fairness (instead of a gift to timber owners) by equalizing the small tax rates assessed to support a local levee district. Republicans wouldn't stand for it, despite committee approval. Then came the stomping of GED test takers and a prayer for the souls of those who believe in a woman's right to choose and resist church as an appropriate place for guns. It's nothing to see when you're feeling poorly. I hope McElroy, with his passion for poor people, returns. Poor folks need every vote they can muster. I'm told he turned in a legislative license plate before leaving Friday and also gave the keys to his car to somebody in Pine Bluff before sticking out his thumb for the rest of the ride to Desha County, where he'd been a successful county judge.

* CHARTER SCHOOL WATCH: Same song, umpteenth verse. The charter schools that succeed — and not all of them do — have an inestimable advantage of committed parents, sometimes committed students and rigid rules that can lead to "out-counseling" for those who don't comply. Real public schools must educate the disengaged and dysfunctional to whatever degree possible. Some charter schools — particularly those with Billionaire Boys Club money — even operate with more money and better facilities. And, now, thanks to Reuters, we know that still more function even further as quasi-private schools:

Charters are public schools, funded by taxpayers and widely promoted as open to all. But Reuters has found that across the United States, charters aggressively screen student applicants, assessing their academic records, parental support, disciplinary history, motivation, special needs and even their citizenship, sometimes in violation of state and federal law.

"I didn't get the sense that was what charter schools were all about - we'll pick the students who are the most motivated? Who are going to make our test scores look good?" said Michelle Newman, whose 8-year-old son lost his seat in an Ohio charter school last fall after he did poorly on an admissions test. "It left a bad taste in my mouth."

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