Thursday, July 14, 2016

State Board of Education ignores court orders, approves school transfers; charter school train rolls on

Posted By on Thu, Jul 14, 2016 at 11:40 AM

click to enlarge FIGHTING THE COURTS AGAIN: State Board of Education voted today to ignore a federal court agreement in approving a student transfer.
  • FIGHTING THE COURTS AGAIN: State Board of Education voted today to ignore a federal court agreement in approving a student transfer.
The state Board of Education voted today to allow a Jacksonville student to transfer to Cabot schools next year despite a federal court agreement by which the new Jacksonville North Pulaski School District said it would not participate in school choice if it left the Pulaski County School District. The student, now in a charter school in Jacksonville, would have better opportunities in Cabot, her mother said.

Board member Diane Zook noted that other school districts in the county — Little Rock and North Little Rock — participate in school choice. But they have been declared unitary for desegregation purposes, while the Pulaski district has not. Board member Jay Barth noted the federal court agreement, but it carried no weight apparently with the majority of the board, now in control by Gov. Asa Hutchinson's appointees.

Next came a transfer proposed by a white family from the El Dorado School District to majority white Parkers Chapel, a move opposed by El Dorado because of its past desegregation history. Whitney Moore, an attorney for El Dorado, says the state law provides no way around the conflict with an enforceable court desegregation order and there should not even be an appeal process before the state board. The attorney said the state board was in no position to interpret court orders (as Zook did in arguing that without a letter from the judge they could approve the Jacksonville transfer.) The parents in this case also violated state law the El Dorado lawyer said by creating a guardianship within an aunt as a pretext for allowing El Dorado children to go to Parkers Chapel. Approving this move would create a flood of similar applications, El Dorado contended. It is currently about 50-50 in racial enrollment. The superintendent said he guaranteed resegregation would happen if the exemption from choice is taken away.

Attorneys told the board they didn't have the power to interpret court rulings, but Zook, particularly, persisted at doing so. Barth suggested that intervenors in the Pulaski case could appeal the transfer decision in the Jacksonville case. 

Brett Williamson, an El Dorado resident, said he disagreed with the El Dorado superintendent on the issue. Williamson works for the Murphy Foundation, one source of the money back school choice, charter schools and the rest of the so-called "reform" movement.

On a motion by Barth, the transfer was denied on a 5-3 vote, with Zook, Williamson and Hutchinson appointee Ouida Newton voting against denial.
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Tony Wood, the superintendent of the Jacksonville North Pulaski School District, asked after the vote how the board could deni a transfer in one district with an active desegregation case (El Dorado) and approve it in another, his own. The vote is what the vote is, an attorney for the Department said.

That prompted a discussion on whether the first vote on Jacksonville could be reconsidered, an issue delayed until the afternoon.

UPDATE: Barth moved for reconsideration of the Jacksonville transfer vote in light of continuing legal discussion about the board's role in hearing cases involving districts with ongoing court cases. The motion was approved unanimously. The vote itself will come later this afternoon, after an effort to reach the family in the first case. New Board member Fitz Hill then asked for reconsideration of the vote on El Dorado as well. He said he'd been confused about the process and noted he'd voted for the Jacksonville transfer but against the El Dorado transfer.

New board member Ouida Newton said she preferred to approve the student transfers and then put the burden for an appeal on a school district's back.

UPDATE II: On reconsideration, the Hutchinson-packed board approved BOTH transfers, both in conflict with federal court desegregation rulings. Welcome back to 1957.

Later today, the Board will consider a new location for Little Rock Prep Academy, so that it may drain more students from the Little Rock School District. The state Education Department's staff approved the expansion into an upscale part of town for the majority black school despite its poor academic and financial performance and despite its early promise to serve students in Granite Mountain, College Station, Southwest Little Rock and similar. With a board packed with Hutchinson appointees and the recent firing of Baker Kurrus as Little Rock superintendent for resisting expansions, I'd expect this move to be approved, the LR Prep's elementary and middle schools both are academically underachieving.

UPDATE: With Zook again leading the way, the Board voted to allow the move to a new campus. Barth voted no. The Board ignored resistance to continued charter school expansion in Little Rock from the stakeholder group established nominally to consider collaboration of conventional and charter schools in Pulaski County. I've said all along it was a time-wasting sham and today's vote indicates as much. If a failing, financially troubled school is whooped forward for whatever it wants, the notion of charter school accountability is meaningless.

Haas Hall, which operates two high schools in Northwest Arkansas, is appealing a decision by department staff to deny opening of another campus in Springdale next year. Powerful Republican legislators have raised a ruckus about that denial. The school has been questioned in the past about manipulating the lottery admission process and other issues. It claims it aims to achieve more diversity in race and income with a new Springdale location, though it has not managed to do that in Fayetteville and Bentonville locations. Haas has now pushed the startup in Springdale for a year, to the fall of 2017. It has also taken steps to make the lottery more transparent to answer concerns that the school caters to "elite" students. Jim Rollins, the Springdale superintendent, has opposed the expansion because the district has built a sterling record with a highly diverse student body, including a large Latino population. Where, in short, is the need for a charter school? Haas' attorney, Mark Henry, complained that Springdale had raised late objections to the Haas expansion on segregation of the Springdale district. Haas Hall already actually has a school in the Springdale School District, though it is in the city of Fayetteville. 

The Springdale district's objection includes that the Haas application is wholly by e-mail. Many of its families don't have e-mail, an official noted. She urged a comparison of access between Springdale and Haas, whether it be transportation, school lunch or other factors.  Haas, in short, targets college prep students. What does that mean for the broader community Springdale serves? Does Haas want the big portion of Marshallese students learning to cope with the English language? Not likely. Would they be a top-ranked school if their student body looked like the Springdale student body — more poor, more Latino, more Marshallese students? Not likely.

A Springdale student ripped the elitist attitude at Haas, including a graduation speaker who compared her classes challenges to those faced by the Little Rock Nine who integrated Central High School. Really they did. A Springdale teacher repeated the theme and the challenges faced by so many Springdale students — not the students targeted by Haas.

Haas doesn't participate in the federal lunch program, so it doesn't count whether it has any students who qualify. It has no special ed students. Board member Barth observed that there seemed to be some "exclusionary force" that keeps certain kinds of kids away from Haas. We've seen this before. eStem and LISA in Little Rock claim to have unbiased lotteries and strong outreach. But their numbers of poor and minority students are far below those in the surrounding Little Rock School District.

Charter schools have resisted providing full information about their lottery processes. It's easier to claim they have thousands on waiting lists, without having to prove it. Even Zook, who cheers virtually any charter school proposal, expressed some concern about creaming of better students, especially from a good school district, and perhaps harming the students left behind. She made clear she though Springdale a good school district, in comparision to schools "south of the river" in Pulaski County. Her continuing insults of Little Rock grow tiresome.

Martin Schoppmeyer, director of the charter, claimed the school was going to stage a recruiting effort unlike anything ever seen before. He said the school would achieve diversity and succeed with those students. Haas Hall currently is about 9 percent black and Latino at its two campuses.

After much discussion, the state Board voted 1) YES to allow preference for siblings in Haas Hall enrollment; 2) YES to raise the enrollment cap by 100 students at the Fayetteville campus; and 3) YES to allow a new campus in Springdale in 2017. Barth and Zook voted against the new campus. Turned back, too, was an effort by Barth to get Haas to ask parents if they qualify for lunch subsiidies. Why not? Because Haas doesn't want to advertise how few poor students they serve.

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