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Monday, November 11, 2013

Pulaski school desegregation talks continue

Posted By on Mon, Nov 11, 2013 at 2:23 PM

click to enlarge BONE OF CONTENTION: Forest Heights school plan proposed by superintendent has critic in civil rights lawyer.
  • BONE OF CONTENTION: Forest Heights school plan proposed by superintendent has critic in civil rights lawyer.

Representatives of parties in the decades-old Pulaski County school desegregation lawsuit met Sunday and are meeting again this afternoon in a continuation of talks to see if a settlement can be reached in time to get legislative review before a Dec. 9 federal court hearing on the state's petition to end financial support to the three public school districts after some 24 years of payments.

There've been proposals and counter-proposals on ending the state financial support.  I'd guess that the state has offered somewhere in the neighborhood of three additional years of payments, counting the current year, at a rate of just under $70 million a year, with better than half of that amount going to the Little Rock district. The districts have wanted twice that, but various sources indicate movement.

Money alone won't end the case. The three school districts and the state could agree to a financial settlement, but that wouldn't bind John Walker, who represents black intervenors, to stop fighting an end to payments at the December hearing. He also could continue to protest the state's approval of open enrollment charter schools in Pulaski County. He also could continue to fight a declaration that the Pulaski County school district has  achieved unitary, or desegregated status. In other words, without John Walker, there is no settlement that ends the litigation. Putting an end to the case is just as important, maybe more important, to the state than the final payments.

Walker has made it clear previously that his concerns are less about money than an ability to continue to be able to challenge the school districts on delivering equal facilities, equal discipline and greater achievement for disadvantaged children. He could settle with the state, still, but he likely wouldn't want to be foreclosed from raising these issues with the districts themselves.

A developing school wrinkle: The settlement talks continue against a backdrop of growing grumbling about Dexter Suggs, the new superintendent of the Little Rock School District. The teachers union isn't happy with its lack of headway in contract talks. I wrote recently about an extensive FOI request the Little Rock Education Association had filed, delving into Sugg's personal expenditures, among others. Walker has raised objections to some of Suggs' school reorganization plans, particularly the conversion of the Forest Heights middle school into a lure for high-achieving students in hopes of drawing more neighborhood students. Walker has also raised objections to the construction of a new middle school in western Little Rock before addressing schools with high-priority students.

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