Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Dexter Suggs resigns as Little Rock school superintendent

Posted By on Tue, Apr 21, 2015 at 8:48 AM

DEXTER SUGGS: Out as Little Rock school superintendent. - KUAR
  • KUAR
  • DEXTER SUGGS: Out as Little Rock school superintendent.

This just in from state Education Department:

Today, Commissioner Johnny Key reached an agreement with Dr. Dexter Suggs that resulted in Dr. Suggs’ immediate resignation as superintendent of the Little Rock School District. Mr. Marvin Burton will serve as interim superintendent for the Little Rock School District.

Commissioner Key offered the following statement:

“The Arkansas Department of Education will work with the Little Rock School District to provide the high level of educational services required by the Arkansas Constitution. Through this period of transition, we will work in a collaborative way with teachers, administrators, staff, and the community.”

He's out immediately. Our earlier post predicted a departure by noon today.

Here's the full severance arrangement.
He gets $46,208.50 immediately, which includes salary and $4,500 for "transition" expenses. 

The state agrees to pay $50,500 per quarter every two months beginning July 1 for four payments, or $202,000. The payments will stop if Suggs' doctoral degree is revoked during that time.

The agreement releases both sides from any future claims. Suggs must return district property. Both parties agree not to say things disparaging of the other.

Commissioner Key said through a spokesman that it wouldn't have anything further to say "at this time."

Suggs has been embroiled in controversy since the state takeover of the district, most recently over allegations raised by Blue Hog Report that he'd plagiarized his doctoral dissertation.

Suggs was in the second year of an initial three-year contract when a split School Board extended his contract by a year in 2014. But that contract became essentially moot when the School Board was abolished and the state took over. He was hired at base pay of $200,000, but also had other perks such as a car and phone.

Attention now turns to whether Burton will remain for the long term or whether Key, who serves as the School Board for the district, will move toward someone from the outside for a longer term.

Favorite names: Jerry Guess, currently leading the state-run Pulaski County Special School District; Jim Rollins, superintendent in Springdale who might like a new challenge and who's done well with a diverse district; and Baker Kurrus, the businessman leading financial correction for the Little Rock District, in concert with a professional educator on the organizational side.

Suggs joins former Lt. Gov. Mark Darr and former Circuit Judge Mike Maggio as public officials who lost jobs as a direct result of public record digging by Blue Hog Report, a blog operated by Little Rock lawyer Matt Campbell. In this case, Campbell was supplied a copy of Suggs' thesis by someone else interested in Suggs' background and he did research available widely on Google and elsewhere to sniff out academic plagiarism.

But Suggs' critical mistake, apart from academic shortcomings (he's said he committed no intentional plagiarism or fraud, though he hasn't explained verbatim repetition of words found in three other earlier works), was an investigation and firing threatened of teachers at Jefferson Elementary School. Nominally, they hadn't complied with "policies" on conducting summer enrichment programs for students (literacy, computers) for small fees. But the record showed they operated with principal permission and much as many teachers around the district do. They'd come under scrutiny, they believed, because one of them — a union officer — had alleged abuse of sick leave by a member of Suggs' administration. That witch hunt produced such an outcry, that Suggs pulled back from the investigation. But it had already produced an FOI suit by Campbell against Suggs for failing to produce the union official's personnel records and a lawsuit was drafted by John Walker on behalf of the other teachers over Suggs' alleged violation of their civil rights. The teachers were unhappy with Suggs' non-apology when he called off the investigation. That lawsuit remains a distinct possibility, Walker told me this morning.

Suggs also riled parents at Rockefeller Elementary by the surprise reorganization of the school and announced plan to close the school's historic pre-school program. He backed off that plan, too. He gave Baseline parents similarly short notice of plans to oust the staff of that school, one of six on academic distress. It has a high population of non-English speakers and a huge proportion of children in poverty.

Suggs had released a list of 64 administrative jobs to be eliminated, though indicated some on that list might return in new roles. A key question is who stays and who goes. Will they retain calcified administrators and some who've been implicated in political dealing (remember the misuse of student enrollment information that figured in the Clarke Tucker-Stacy Hurst race for state House of Representatives?).

A strong argument exists for a new broom to sweep up.

The episode illustrates many things. It is hard to find good school superintendents. Leading a poor, majority minority district is no easy task. Top-down leadership is never as good as collegial leadership. Executive search firms are perhaps not worth the money they receive. The Little Rock District has had and will have enormous challenges. A change at the top — school board or superintendent — was never going to make that easy.

No one is responsible for Suggs' departure other than Suggs, who overcame difficult beginnings to get an education and win big jobs. I still think ousted School Board President Greg Adams had important things to say on the whole subject in an essay I posted a few days ago. Check it out.

PS — Two lawyers have now called me to object to the payment of as much as $250,000 to Suggs, an at-will, day-to-day employee of the state without a contract right to assert. If he was deemed unsuitable to continue, why not just send him on his way? That kind of forced departure is going to happen in the district to some teachers and others who are capable but must be released for strictly budgetary reasons.

Critics of the school district like to blame teachers and their union. They say it's impossible to fire a bad teacher. Apparently it isn't possible to fire a bad superintendent either without paying him $250,000.

Presumably, a time WILL arrive when Commissioner Key will talk about the district's future and perhaps explain the reason for a severance payment. Just not today.

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