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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Little Rock's counter-offer on settling desegregation lawsuit

Posted By on Thu, Nov 7, 2013 at 11:07 AM

Chris Heller, attorney for the Little Rock School District, has sent me a copy of a draft settlement proposal he has circulated to other parties opposing the state in the Pulaski County desegregation lawsuit to see if it can form an agreed counter-proposal to what's been offered to date by Attorney General Dustin McDaniel.

Here's Heller's draft.
The dickering proceeds with a December trial date coming on whether the state can be relieved of continuing payments in support of desegregation in three districts under a 1989 settlement. Little Rock and North Little Rock have been declared desegregated ("unitary"), but Pulaski County is still working to address several issues.

McDaniel opened the dickering by proposing that the state pay $49 million to the three districts next school year as a  final payment. The districts currently get $70 million a year.

Heller's proposal calls for the state to pay at the existing level in 2008, $68-69 million a year, for six years beginning in the school year beginning July 1. (I wrote incorrectly originally that it was five years; it's five years of payments AFTER the first payment on July 1.) But it would end all legal contests. It would begin the phaseout of state-supported interdistrict magnet schools and transfer programs. It would end the cost of operating the federal desegregation monitoring office. This draft makes no requirement of the state on stopping approval of open enrollment charter schools in Pulaski County. That issue pends in federal court and will continue to exist in federal court unless ALL parties agree to settle.

Which brings us to the Joshua intervenors, the name given black families in the county, who are represented by state Rep. John Walker. He's not yet saying where he stands on the settlement talks. He was dismissive of McDaniel's first proposal. And he's on record that the desegregation efforts down through the years have not produced the rise in achievement among the black children the lawsuit was supposed to be about. Based on his past statements, I find it hard to believe he'd accept a settlement with a general financial payment, as opposed to categorical efforts targeting achievement of black children. I also find it hard to believe, however, that the state legislature would like the idea of such affirmative action spending, so it wouldn't likely win favor with McDaniel.

The money deal looks easy enough — split the difference. McDaniel offered not quite a full year; the district countered with six, settle for three years. At a cumulative $210 million, not considering some reduction in other obligations it would produce, it's still only half of the $400 million or so previously offered by McDaniel and rejected some years ago. UPDATE: Indications are that McDaniel has indeed come back with a counter somewhere in the three-year payout range.

As written, the draft provides $250,000 in legal fees for Little Rock and North Little Rock and "reasonable fees and costs" for the Joshua intervenors.

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