Child's play 

Leaders of the Little Rock School District aren’t setting a good example for the children.

The world of Little Rock School District politics was upset by the last school election. Instead of a majority white board governing a majority black district, the board majority is now black, too.

That majority is not so beholden to the clubby special business interests (notably Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman and the Walton Foundation) who thought they’d seized control of the district as a laboratory for their ideas on education “reform.”

The clubby group doesn’t like the new school board math. The new black majority is a “gang,” in the view of the Democrat-Gazette editorial page, a racially charged word never applied to the old white majority.

When Karen DeJarnette, a skilled statistician, decided that Superintendent Roy Brooks and the district’s attorney were preventing honest reports on the district’s effort to monitor minority achievement, she blew the whistle to the board. Brooks responded by trying to fire her. This would be like a bank president firing an auditor who discovered non-performing loans hidden from bank regulators.

The board majority reinstated DeJarnette, but Brooks resisted. He tried to delay her return to work, perhaps to get a functioning replacement in place so she then could be shunted aside. When the board majority rapped Brooks’ knuckles for this he said, according to the Democrat-Gazette, “I’m not going to let a bunch of spiteful adults stop me from doing what I set out to do. … Am I the only one thinking about the kids? Well, thank God I’m here because I’m here for the kids.”

Brooks parrots the emerging talking point of the old boys club — Roy Brooks cares about kids. Anybody who thinks differently — as defined by Hussman, Walton and Co. — is a self-interested union hack or an ignorant stooge of lawyer John Walker. School board member Larry Berkley, I learned last week, is busy organizing a claque of West Little Rock parents to turn out for school board meetings in support of Brooks. He thinks Board president Katherine Mitchell has been “spiteful” to Brooks. Brooks knows spite.

EVERYONE is for kids. The Hussmans and Waltons want what’s best for kids, I’m sure, even if I think there’s reason to question their faith-based belief in merit pay, its method of implementation and the absence of the appearance of an independent evaluation (the Waltons help finance the UA academics who’ll evaluate the program they championed and financed).

I’m hopeful coming hearings by federal Judge Bill Wilson will provide an independent review of the facts in the DeJarnette case.

But no hearing is necessary to rule Roy Brooks’ outburst out of order. His petulant remark about “spiteful adults” was insubordinate, as was his effort to sidestep the school board’s order to put DeJarnette back to work. The superintendent works for the school board. The new majority showed admirable restraint in talking to Brooks privately about the matter at a special meeting last week.

Brooks would have done himself, and the district, more than a little good by facing the press after the meeting instead of sneaking out a back door. He could have apologized for his sharp words and assured everyone that he and the school board had an equal interest in children and he regretted any suggestion to the contrary. Can Roy Brooks bring himself to say such a thing? His future may depend on it.


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