Thursday, March 31, 2016

Judge Piazza denies request seeking delay of charter school review meeting

Posted By on Thu, Mar 31, 2016 at 1:58 PM

Circuit Judge Chris Piazza has denied a request for an injunction seeking to delay this evening's public hearing on the question of charter school expansion in Little Rock. The plaintiff, Claudius Johnson, is suing the state Board of Education over a violation of the Freedom of Information Act related to emails sent between board members earlier this month.

Here's background on the state board's FOI problem, which arose when board member Brett Williamson attempted to rescind the board's decision to hold a public hearing on the expansion proposals of eStem and LISA, two charter operators in Little Rock. Williamson then dropped the matter.

Nonetheless, Johnson's lawsuit argued that the "use of e-mail to eliminate the opportunity of the public to be heard is an act of racial and socioeconomic prejudice, as it was anticipated that the review of the disproportionate impact of the Charter Authorizing Panel would focus and bring to light any such impacts."

Judge Piazza said today that he couldn’t see how Williamson's email resulted in any action being taken by the state board. Since the communication didn't result in anything material happening, Piazza said, he was denying the injunction.

Max adds:

The hearing today only pertained to the request for an injunction for today's meeting. Seth Bowman, who brought the case, says the FOI claim about improper board communication will continue.  He'll be seeking to uncover board communications outside of public earshot, which the FOI doesn't allow.

And speaking of that hearing on charter expansion, I thought I'd pass along in advance one of several letters written by Little Rock School District parents on the subject:
To: State Board of Education members
From: Liz Smith – Parent of two/Professor
RE: Expansion of Charter schools in Little Rock

Board Members,

I am a parent of two young boys (5 and 3) who have attended the Rockefeller Early Childhood Center in the LRSD since infancy. I have been very happy with this experience and have been impressed with the professionalism of every teacher, assistant and administrator I have come across in our 5 years in the program. We were thrilled to find that our 5 year old will be attending Gibbs elementary next year and hope he will be followed by our 3 year old when he reaches kindergarten. I am also a professor at UCA.

I have grave concerns about the expansion of the eSTEM and LISA Academy programs.

1. The enrollment numbers of these two charter programs and their percentage breakdown of harder and more expensive to serve communities such as special needs, low income and ESL students are clear proof that these charters do not in fact enroll students that reflect the overall demographic of the LRSD. I have heard nothing based in facts or data from the charters to show that this is untrue or that it is a trajectory that will not continue.

a. Unless there is a clear initiative to use these 3000 new seats to actively recruit these harder to serve communities this expansion will in fact impact the proportion of high needs to lower needs students in the LRSD public schools even further.

b. This morning I heard the director of the eSTEM on NPR suggest that the LRSD is “more concerned about systems than students”. This suggests he does not understand that in fact the public school system (or the charter system) can’t help but impact the students who are in it; they are intimately connected. To suggest otherwise is playing politics in sound bytes not showing supporting evidence to prove effectiveness. When in contrast Superintendent Kurrus has put forth reams of facts to allow the public to understand the implications of this 3000 seat expansion without hyperbole or vitriol.

2. If the expansion happens it will obviously have a devastating impact on the public school system.

a. Taking demographics into account the charters do not perform better than the traditional LRSD schools. Yes six of forty-eight are in distress and that needs to be addressed but that means that forty six are not in distress and most are performing as well or better than the charters when demographics is taken into account.

b. Mr. Kurrus it seems has been working tirelessly to improve the LRSD and put in place a plan for the future however ten months is hardly a sufficient amount of time to create meaningful and sustainable change. The expansion of these charters will simply pull more money (my taxpayer money) out of the LRSD making the job to sustain and improve the remaining public schools even more difficult.

c. I can’t help but think that this pull of money out of the LRSD and into the Charters PLUS the problem of the proportion shift of high needs students left in the LRSD and lower needs students into the Charters will negatively impact the performance of the LRSD and the schools my children are attending.

d. These are 48 neighborhood schools that positively impact their surrounding communities and work to support ALL of the children in those locations regardless of need, race and financial means. The LRSD public schools are not without problems but upon looking at the numbers for the LISA Academy, eSTEM and the Covenant Keepers neither are they. And at least the LRSD public schools are holding up their end of the moral bargain to try to educate EVERY student who comes to their door, the percentages of students in the charters and their capacity to even serve these higher needs students with trained faculty and facilities prove that educating EVERY student is not their priority.
Please vote NO to the expansion of these charter programs pending further review of the impact on the LRSD and future plans for the LRSD. I am my children need you to approach this expansion with clear facts and a plan to move forward to educate all of our children equally and fairly.

Liz Smith

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