Thursday, January 8, 2015

Jan. 28 recommended as decision date on LR school takeover

Posted By on Thu, Jan 8, 2015 at 9:48 AM

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The committee reviewing the Little Rock School District began its meeting this morning with a ringing declaration of opposition from state Rep. John Walker, the lawyer who fought the desegregation case in federal court for decades.

Walker contends the pressure of opposition to the current board comes from those anxious to serve higher-income white neighborhoods, including by pushing for new schools in western Little Rock. He said the current board majority had demonstrated its higher priority for schools with greatest needs and he said Superintendent Dexter Suggs (again I apologize for getting this name wrong originally) had built no record, in writing or otherwise, of solid theories for improving the schools.

If the state is to take over Little Rock, it must take over the other districts in the state with schools judged in academic distress, said Walker.

"You have no evidentiary basis before you for taking over the district board and eliminating the will of black voters," Walker said.

Walker noted that the state was supposed to be helping the district achieve for years, but there's no record it has done so. He zinged takeover opponents like John Riggs who claims the district has made no progress for 20 years. The state and Riggs and others argued to the contrary to that exact argument by Walker in trying to keep the state in federal court for failure to address shortcomings in the school district.

He said the state has failed to positively affect minority student performance anywhere in Arkansas.

Sen. Joyce Elliott of Little Rock followed Walker. She opposes takeover. She said she was not a supporter of the status quo. She questioned, based on its track record, the ability of the state department to help Little Rock.

Elliott has posted her thoughts on the issue on Facebook. I hope to get a copy of Walker's remarks. They are worth reading. Elliott said, in part, but sharply:

There is what I consider a myopic view that schools can be sustainably turned into world-class entities without addressing social and economic conditions in our neighborhoods, myopic to the point that most well-meaning folks don't even discuss that schools and neighborhoods are connected. And that's not an excuse. It's just reality. No matter who runs the LRSD, there must be a tandem response of changing schools and communities.

UPDATE: On the motion of Committee Chair Vickie Saviers, the committee recommended to the full state Board of Education that it hold a meeting Jan. 28 to "consider all possibilities" under the law to address schools in academic distress. These range, she noted later, from doing nothing to a range of actions including takeover of specific schools or the entire school district, including governance. The School District would be given until Jan. 21 to file any material pertinent to the decision-making. All members of the committee joined in approving the motion, though member Diane Zook said she was a "do it now" kind of person and doubted any new information would likely emerge by Jan. 28 to change her outlook. She didn't say what that outlook was, but she's been a loud critic of the Little Rock schools and a supporter of the charter school draining Little Rock of more advantaged students. One Board member, I think Alice Mahony, asked that the board be provided information on the enrollment of distressed schools, including the number in poverty, who speak English as a second language and judged as special education students. She wanted information about efforts to transfer from the schools. 

The full state Board will reconvene to act on the recommendation. It's being livestreamed on the web.

UPDATE: I have a copy of rough notes written for Walker's remarks. They are unedited for typos but they were written for oral delivery, not publication.

Here's the text.

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