Little Rock School District superintendent candidate Dr. Walter Milton will take part in a "meet and greet" at 12:30 p.m. today in the district administration building at 810 W. Markham St. Milton is the fourth and final candidate the LRSD is interviewing for the job. After meeting with the public, Milton will meet for an hour with parents and PTA representatives, and following that he will have an hour with teachers and teachers' union reps.
While on paper the strongest, Milton is also the most controversial. He withdrew his application for a job with the Madison, Wis., school district after the school board there considered information about his background — including an audit that said he had been overpaid as superintendent at a New York school district — and announced he was "not a good fit." Members of the board here have also had some qualms.
Dr. Jim Ross, a professor of history at UALR, forwarded to the LRSD board on Sunday a petition asking it to remove Milton's name from consideration and to terminate the contract with the consulting firm that put his name forward.
Previous contact with the board has drawn no response, Ross writes. But board member Dr. Michael Nellums did respond:
I was raised in the African-American church and one of our core beliefs is "keeping the Sabbath Day holy."
Perhaps you didn't know that most African-American church people believe in that principle. I'm forwarding you an inspirational quote from Maya Angelou. I hope it resonates within your spirit. If you require additional reading, I would recommend 2 Corinthians 12, 7-10. Try the King James Version.
Dr. Michael Nellums
Ross' response begins:
I am extremely proud to have heard from you today. Thank you so much for the quote from Maya Angelou. I have spent the last 20 years reading her brilliant work and teaching it to my classes. I of course knew that today was the sabbath, and that Christians of all races respected it. I suspected that those who kept it would get to their emails tomorrow, but as I said I am glad you and I can speak today.
Meanwhile, the State Journal Register of Springfield, Ill., where Milton was superintendent of schools until his resignation a few weeks ago, reports that Milton has made thousands of dollars in independent contracts with other school districts through his company, From the Heart International.
Milton's contract with the Pulaski County Special School District has been reported; it's worth $90,000. The story says he's made eight visits to the district since Jan. 1 as part of his contract, all on Thursdays and Fridays; Milton says he used vacation time to make the trips. He also has a contract with the Youngstown, Ohio, district, where Connie Hathorn, another candidate for the LRSD job, is superintendent.
Jim Ross, who created the Facebook page that addresses the records of the Little Rock School District superintendent candidates and a petition to remove Dr. Walter Milton from the finalists, has notified the School Board that candidate Milton wants to talk to him:
Dear LRSD Board:
On Monday February 25, 2013 I was approached by Marci Manley a reporter from KARK and given a piece of paper with Dr. Milton's personal phone number on it. I was a little shocked at this, and was further shocked when she told me that he wanted me to call him.
I have not called him and nor will I. I am deeply concerned about this contact outside the normal means of the interview process.
I am responsible for the Facebook page that is looking at all the candidates' public records, and I am responsible for the petition asking you all to remove him from the interview process.
I am not sure why he was contacting me. Did he mean to intimidate me? Did he want to persuade me to remove my opposition to his interview? More importantly has he been contacting others in our city? This whole experience has convinced me that he does not have the ethical wisdom it takes to be a strong leader. Is it ethically proper to contact someone in this city about this job? Are we going to be open and transparent in this process.
I hope each of you will honestly look at the other three candidates that the search firm has selected for us. Each of them have weaknesses, but they each appear to be very strong and visionary leaders who would serve our city well.
Thanks for your service. I was reminded today that you all are not paid for this work. I know it is a sacrifice. I really mean it when I say I am thankful for the sacrifice each one of you make.
Board member Leslie Fisken replied to Ross' email, thanking him for his appreciation of their work.
Thank you for your appreciation Mr. Ross. Our board is working together as a team during this superintendent search and adding:
I have not had any communications with Dr. Milton or any of the superintendent candidates outside of the interview process. I plan to strictly follow the interview schedule as provided to us by McPherson & Jacobson. That schedule is posted on the LRSD website www.lrsd.org.
I appreciate your support of our district.
Milton’s career, as has been pointed out here, has not been without controversy (including his decision as superintendent of Fallsburg Central School District, N.Y., to hire a former business partner who had been convicted on child molestation charges (Milton said he didn’t know about the charges), an audit that found he was overpaid by the New York school district, a foreclosure action on his New York house, and the fact that he resigned his current job as superintendent of schools in Springfield, Ill., after an extension of his contract was denied).
On Feb. 20, board member Jody Carreiro complained to Bald Knob School District Superintendent Kieth Williams, a consultant for McPherson and Jacobson, that Milton was “proving to be a giant distraction.” From that email:
“I continue to tell people that I am focused on 3 very high quality candidates that we are interviewing. But after being lectured a bit on the difference between vetting and googling, I am growing more concerned about how much vetting was done. Dr. Milton provided the same 3 pieces of paper to the Dem-Gaz, based on today’s article, that were shown to us by Loe as proof positive that everything about Dr. Milton was false or exaggerated. This would lead one to conclude that the only vetting done was asking Dr. Milton for his explanation instead of independent verification. … I am starting to get lots of email questioning why we are even interviewing him. I hope this does not distract from the 3 good candidates.
I have two different groups that are telling me the overturned conviction of Dr. Milton’s friend was just a prelude to a conviction and that he is serving time now. If either of these provide independent documentation it will be very embarrassing to the board and to McPherson and Jacobson.
Milton provided the Democrat-Gazette a document showing his friend, Julius B. Anthony, had been acquitted of the child molestation charge. But Anthony has since been jailed on charges of sexual battery, in June 2008, according to the website mugshots.com.
In response to Carreiro, McPherson consultant Loe Dunn sent an email that hotly defended Milton and the firm’s vetting of him, writing “Yes, there is a difference between “vetting” and “googling.”
On Feb. 21, board member Leslie Plowman Fisken emailed Dunn about her response to Carriero, which was copied to the board as a whole:
I appreciate your efforts in our superintendent search. I, as a new board member, am still confused as to why an applicant like Dr. Milton, with a questionable background, would be recommended to us as someone that could lead the Little Rock School District. Regardless of work history, success and media scrutiny, Dr. Milton has a history whereby he has made questionable decisions and judgment calls that, at a minimum, cast a shadow of doubt upon his honesty and ethics. These traits are a must in any candidate that will lead this district. I find his application a distraction and an insult to the applications of Drs. [Stefanie] Phillips, [Dexter] Suggs and [Connie] Hathorn.
Milton, who will be interviewed for the job on Monday and meet with the public at 12:30 p.m. that day, and Dunn have a defender on the board, Norma Johnson. On Feb. 22, Johnson sent an email to Dunn, who is the campus director for the Louisiana Delta Community College Campus Sites in Bastrop, La., according to the McPherson and Jacobson website, praising her for her work in the superintendent search.
Ms Dunn, you have done a great with your search superintendent search. My fellow board members, please understand that we all had the opportunity to voice our opinion before we considered who to interview. Ms Dunn has done her part, so please leave her alone, it is time for us to do our part. If you are not pleased with a candidate, then don’t vote for him/her but don’t keep attacking Ms Dunn. My goodness, what is wrong with you guys. I hope I daon’t have any grammatical eroors, they wil lnail me to the cross.
Johnson also wrote board member Greg Adams:
Greg, I have a questions, Anti-Bullying Advisory Board Chair, does any of this border on ‘Bullying”? I am almost sure there is a better and more respectful way of conducting business, why this, I am not sure. We were off to a good start and now I smell some crapp.
In reply, Adams wrote Johnson, "This looks more to me like strongly felt and sometimes strongly expressed disagreements — assertively but not aggressively expressed. … Will be a good discussion for us.”
McPherson and Jacobson have a contract for $21,500 plus expenses with the district.
The school district provided the emails to the Times in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
Items have provided links to news articles about various candidates, including several on Walter Milton Jr., the Springfield superintendent to whom Little Rock School Board member Michael Nellums reportedly reached out the last time Little Rock had an opening.
The Facebook page has gotten the attention of School Board President Dianne Curry, who's already been quoted as being dismissive of newspaper articles (there are lots of them) about Milton's controversies at his current and former job. He's being pushed out the door before the end of this school year with a $178,000 buyout, the local newspaper has revealed. The new Facebook page includes an unverified report that Milton had sought a consulting contract with Little Rock last year.
Curry has sent an e-mail to the district's private lawyers about the Facebook page. It said:
Please address this issue and concern for us. I do not want this to be misleading to any one that this is districts process. We do not want this to indicate that this is the district. I am asking for this to be removed as a connection to the LRSD.
Nellums also commmented in an e-mail to board members:
Who gave them permission to use the LRSD trademark symbol?
The founder of the group contends the logo is not trademarked. He sees the comeback from the board as intimidation by board members backing Milton.
Is LRSD heading to another leadership disaster?
Interesting contrast: Madison, Wisc. school board members asked Milton to withdraw from seeking their superintendent opening after learning about some controversy in his background. They had heard his defense that news articles were inaccurate. Here, Milton made the finalist list despite that knowledge and the Board president has acted forcefully in his behalf since. These facts won't be unnoticed by other candidates.
The Little Rock School Board meets Monday afternoon to narrow applicants for the school superintendent's job to to finalists.
I'm interested particularly in one applicant, Walter Milton Jr., currently superintendent in Springfield, Ill., and a finalist the last time Little Rock filled this job. I've talked with him and he insists questions raised about his tenure in Springfield and elsewhere during his quest for a job in Wisconsin are just the sorts of things long-term superintendents inevitably face. Bosses don't make everybody happy, after all, and they can't be held responsible for the occasional mistakes in hiring of subordinates. But, my, what a lot of smoke.
And that's just a sample.
Forget the single applicant.The larger question is whether any of the applicants offer hope for departure from status quo, change-at-the-margins leadership. Leadership is lacking on the School Board itself, though that's something of a product of racial factionalism. The superintendent selection process was delayed far too long and is occurring now at a bad time during the school year. The process was outsourced to a consultant firm that hasn't produced stunning choices before. Race of the superintendent choice seems likely to be a disproportionate factor in the selection process.
It's far too late for me to make this suggestion, but I'll make it again anyway. Little Rock could have sought a waiver from state law to bring in an independent local businessman without political baggage to evaluate, even ruthlessly, the old order of things. Heck, they could look next door or elsewhere in Arkansas for somebody like Jerry Guess, who's used a powerful portfolio as state-appointed leader of a district in receivership to right the Pulaski County Special School District. He, incidentially, had a noteworthy career at a Camden school district well-versed in coping with desegregation and flight issues.
Why can't the district recruit a shining star rather than fall back on the usual sorts of choices that inevitably include candidates fleeing difficult circumstances?
I linked yesterday to a Wisconsin news article about the withdrawal of an Illinois school superintendent, Walter Milton Jr., from a search for a new leader in Madison. The angle is that the same man had applied previously to be superintendent in Little Rock and is again on this year's list of
Here's further reporting today in which the Madison newspaper says that city's consultant concedes some problems in its background check.
Gary Ray, president of Ray and Associates, did not return calls Wednesday and earlier this week seeking comment. He told The Capital Times on Wednesday the board was "well aware" of Milton's work record.
[Board member Mary] Burke said Milton provided documents explaining a New York financial audit that found he had been overpaid and the hiring in Michigan of a former business partner who had been convicted of child molestation. Burke said Tuesday after learning more about Milton that the board had not been given a "full accounting."
Ray has not responded to a State Journal request for the documents provided to the board.
This naturally raises the question about the background check by a different consulting firm working in Little Rock and what its materials say about this particular candidate. I've asked School Board President Dianne Curry if she's aware of the Wisconsin situation and whether it's had any impact on Milton's position as a contender for Little Rock's job. Milton has been unavailable for comment in Wisconsin, as he was when I tried to reach him a couple of years ago about Little Rock School Board member Michael Nellums' activities related to his candidacy. Board member Jody Carreiro said he was aware of the issue. He said the LRSD's search firm was still in the vetting process and board members hadn't been provided with materials about the candidates yet.
UPDATE: I heard from Milton this afternoon. He said his record was an open book, including a "stellar" record during his six years in Springfield. He said the items brought up about him were inaccurate and old. He said he wouldn't have been hired in Springfield had there been anything to the reports. He said he'd acted quickly when he learned that a man he'd hired as a curriculum director at a Michigan district faced a court accusation and that the man resigned rather than being fired. But Milton also said the man was ultimately acquitted of wrongdoing. He said the audit questions similarly were inaccurate and produced in an audit after he left the school district, a move that left some people unhappy with him. He said a credit card for general use by several employees bore his name but that his own expenditures were all within business guidelines. He said he'd be happy to go into detail on any and all issues. "I'm all about transparency," he said. As for Nellums: He said he'd met him once at an educational conference some years ago, but had no deeper association.
Walter Milton Jr. pulled his name from consideration for the Madison School District's superintendent job Tuesday evening, according to a statement the Madison School Board provided to the State Journal.
The decision comes amid questions about parts of Milton's background and how much the board knew about them before naming him Sunday as one of two finalists for the job.
At previous jobs he hired without conducting a background check a former business partner who had been convicted of child molestation, according to news reports. Milton also faced questions about submitting inaccurate resumes when applying for jobs.
Also, a 2007 New York state comptroller's audit found Milton had been overpaid while superintendent at a school district there from 2003 to 2005 and used a district credit card for personal expenses that he had not paid back.
Milton applied for the Little Rock job in 2011. At the time, we revealed some unusual maneuvers by School Board member Michael Nellums in Milton's behalf.
Little Rock School District parents were surprised in a few cases yesterday at notes that came home in elementary student backpacks.
They were asked about their feelings on armed security guards in elementary schools.
Superintendent Morris Holmes talked to the School Board recently about adding armed security guards — not police officers, but regular security offices who've been through firearms training — at all school campuses.
Teachers and faculty from McClellan Magnet High School are planning a protest outside a special Little Rock School Board meeting this evening.
On the agenda tonight is a personnel discussion that's thought to concern the imminent transfer of McClellan interim principal Clausey Myton to Hamilton Learning Academy. On Tuesday, district superintendent Morris Holmes informed Myton of the transfer, and Myton announced it to the teachers at a staff meeting. Myton said he was told he was being moved because teachers, parents and board members are unhappy with his performance.
Multiple McClellan faculty members contacted the Times, but they're not willing to give their names for fear of losing their jobs. Teachers are angry about not being consulted in the decision, particularly because, in the past decade, McClellan has had high principal turnover. At least one principal and two interims have stayed less than two years. Some faculty believe Myton is being transferred because he recommended the school’s long-time secretary, Deborah Brown, for termination after she signed his signature on a letter that went out to all McClellan seniors. The letter solicited their participation in a credit recovery program that, according to McClellan faculty, Myton didn’t think made good use of fiscal resources. At least two witnesses heard him tell Brown that he wasn’t going to sign or send it.
According to McClellan staff, the district decided not to terminate Brown. Some faculty think this is because she is friendly with several members of the school board. We've got a call in to the LRSD to verify Brown's employment status, but according to a McClellan staff member, Brown was kept on paid administrative leave from May until December and suspended for 10 days without pay in December. She has not returned to work at McClellan.
More than one McClellan faculty member told the Times that Myton is a rarity because he does things “by the book,” meaning he follows both state code and that of the LRSD handbook. Sure enough, when reached via phone, he refused comment and referred us to Pamela Smith, Communications Officer at LRSD.
UPDATE: About two dozen teachers showed up with handmade signs in support of Myton, despite having already been informed that public remarks are only taken on the fourth Thursday of the month. "We thought we'd come anyway, let them know that we're paying attention and we want Mr. Myton to stay where he is...he was told not to tell faculty [about the transfer], but because of the kind of principal he is, he told them he was going to tell his staff himself...they were going to carry this whole thing out with a closed vote, without letting the faculty in on it, without giving us a chance for public comment," said Sandra Nichols, who has taught at McClellan for twelve years.
During the meeting, Holmes reminded the public that he was recommending the transfer to the board, and that he could have legally made the transfer without the board's input. He chose to bring the matter before the board in the interest of transparency. Jody Carreiro made a motion to discuss the matter in a closed session, but legal counsel said that a closed session was inappropriate to discuss a transfer under the same terms of employment. Under the Freedom of Information Act, a closed session is only permissible to discuss firings, hiring, demotions and resignations.
There was a brief discussion about the impact a mid-year transfer might have on student achievement and if a leadership change would affect a federal social improvement grant (SIG) McClellan is currently receiving. Carreiro asked if Holmes had discussed the matter with the SIG coordinator, and Holmes said he had not and would not discuss staff changes with anyone outside of the board. "So I guess I just have to assume that you feel it would be a better fit to effectuate our SIG grant with this particular line-up," said Carreiro.
Greg Adams made the motion to approve the transfer, and Diane Curry seconded the motion. The motion failed, three to two. Adams and Curry voted yes, Norma Jean Johnson, Tommy Branch and Michael Nellums voted no. Leslie Fisken and Carreiro refrained from voting.
ALSO: The School Board also began a discussion of whether to place at least one armed police officer in every school, rather than just select campuses. More on that here from Channel 4.
Michael Peterson, who was elected to the Little Rock School Board in September, was found dead today at his home today, the Little Rock School District has confirmed, but no other details are available right now. The Little Rock Police spokesman couldn't immediately be reached, and the district is not releasing other information. (The LRPD later released an incident report that said they were called to a report of a dead body at the Peterson home at 10 a.m. this morning. There is no indication of foul play.)
District spokesman Pam Smith said district policy is to let the school board members elect a replacement in the case of a vacancy, but that the district was still studying the issue. (Later today, Smith said the process is that the board will have to declare a vacancy, advertise for the position and select someone for the seat within 30 days.)
Peterson defeated Laveta Wills-Hale for the Zone 6 position.
We'll post more information when we can get it.
Update: Peterson, 63, worked 38 years in the district, retiring in 2010 as principal of Metropolitan Career Technical Center.
The Pulaski clerk's office reports that three more candidates submitted petitions this morning to file for Little Rock School Board, including Zone 7 incumbent Dianne Curry. Frances Johnson of 6510 Mabelvale Cutoff also filed for Zone 7. They join Tanya Dixon, who filed yesterday.
The clerk said Tranett Walker-Brooks of 8609 Essex Drive filed successfully for Zone 6 (her petitions were still being checked when I first posted). Michael Peterson and Laveta Wills-Hale filed yesterday for Zone 6, currently represented by Charles Armstrong. Armstrong isn't running because he's been elected to the Arkansas House. Peterson mentioned, by the way, in a chat with me yesterday that he expected state Rep. John Walker, a lawyer and powerful figure in LR school affairs, to support Wills-Hale. "That's fine," Peterson said. "I'm independent." He's a retired 38-year district employee, his last 17 as principal at Metropolitian High, which specializes in vocational training. PS: If you're keeping score, Attorney Walker has had differences with Board member Curry and is expected to throw his support to Tanya Dixon.
Leslie Plowman Fisken remained unopposed for Zone 3 to succeed Melanie Fox, who didn't seek another term.
No new candidates from yesterday in North Little Rock. No contested races emerged.
The deadline is noon Tuesday for filing for school board seats and two are still wide open in the Little Rock School District. UPDATE: Not now. Candidates have filed for all seats.
At 9:40 a.m., this morning, the county clerk had received a filing for the Little Rock Zone 3 seat from Leslie Plowman Fisken. Melanie Fox isn't running again for that seat. Nobody has filed yet for Zones 6, currently held by Charles Armstrong, who's headed to the state legislature, and Zone 7, now held by Dianne Curry, who's expected to seek re-election.
The Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce put out an e-mail call for candidates this morning for these seats. If past experience is a guide, the chamber will keep mum if it finds a candidate it favors for one of the seats.
In North Little Rock, Scott Miller in Zone 2 and Darrell Montgomery in Zone 3 have filed for re-election. Richard Luke King has filed for the Zone 7 seat currently held by John Riley, who has not filed.
UPDATE: At 4:55 p.m., the county clerk's office said three more candidates had filed:
* Little Rock Zone 6: Michael Peterson of 8801 Nancy Place (a former principal in the district) and Laveta Wills-Hale of 7922 Lassie Lane. I believe she coordinates a program that works to provide educational programs for kids in out-of-school times.
* Little Rock Zone 7: Tanya Dixon of 6109 Senate Drive.
A clerk's office spokesman said other activity by people picking up petitions indicated more filings may be coming Tuesday.
Parents at two elementary schools — Western Hills and Williams Magnet — petitioned for special School Board meetings recently to protest the reassignment of their popular principals. Holmes has said the reassignments were part of a plan to "refresh" all the schools.
UPDATE: It's confirmed. Superintendent Holmes' memo follows in full, but it says little beyond reaffirming his original decision. He doesn't respond specifically to complaints from parents at schools that have been reporting good results. Following his note is a report to the Williams PTA Board from its leader.
No doubt there are principals in need of removal. No doubt there are some principals better than others. But the interlocking shuffle of 13 principals ends up making it appear as if all are equal. Swapping a principal with a proven record at one school for a principal with less-obvious gifts at another school is somehow going to improve both schools? Holmes has not explained that case well nor did the School Board press him sufficiently on it in ratifying his choices.
Parents at Williams Magnet and Western Hills made the case to keep popular principals at those elementary schools during special school board hearings last night. Holmes said he intended to give consideration to what he'd heard, but he added, "it's not an easy chore to move over 13 principals."
Will a school superintendent reverse himself on one or two changes when that would set off the necessity of at least several more changes? It would be contrary to the nature of the superintendent beast. And the School Board, though some members might harbor doubts about aspects of Holmes' plan, will be reluctant to meddle with his selection of school-level leaders, a matter in which the chief administrator is generally given great deference.
I'll be surprised if this bell is unrung. And somewhat more surprised if the district is a net winner from it all.
The League of United Latin American Citizens has decided to challenge the Little Rock School Board's recent redrawing of school board zone boundaries. The map diminished the influence of the district's growing Latino population to the advantage of three of the four black members of the Board, who voted together for the map 4-3.
An e-mail from the local LULAC leader, Terry Trevino-Richard, explains:
Bless their hearts. I never envy those who have to make the decisions. Back in…
I got a land line telephone a foot away from where I'm typing. It has…
Sounds like perks we get where I work. AND they get offended if you decline…
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