The sky is falling | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The sky is falling

Posted By on Tue, Apr 3, 2007 at 9:47 AM

The upscale mommas who've decided Superintendent Roy Brooks is the savior of the LR School District now have sent an alarm of a sneaky Thursday school board meeting. Their expensive ads in the Democrat-Gazette, though, also warned of Monday and Tuesday meetings to oust Brooks that didn't happen.

Board President Katherine Mitchell, for what it's worth, has been out of town this week and will remain so through Wednesday night. No meeting is scheduled Thursday. The next scheduled meeting is April 12. Some anti-Brooks flyers reportedly have surfaced, however, that mention an April 5 meeting, which no board member is aware of.

We've sent a message to the leader of the mothers' league inquiring as to how much money they've raised and who contributed it. No response so far. (UPDATE: She refuses to say.) We've discussed the issue with experts in Arkansas ethics law. It's a gray area. Money spent to lobby a public body like a school board on administrative actions, such as policy votes, must be reported. Is a vote to hire, fire or buy out a school superintendent's contract a policy vote? Maybe, maybe not, the experts say. To me, it's a clear do-right rule. If lobbying to influence board decisions on vital public matters is meant to be subject to disclosure laws, how could continued employment of a public agency's top employee not be covered?

A number of people are wondering, of course, if the ads (worth an estimated $22,000, the D-G reports) got special treatment from Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman, an admirer of Brooks. Brooks secretly agreed to try out a Hussman-funded merit pay experiments in LR schools without sharing that decision with the public or the School Board and, then agreed in secret to expand it. He also arranged for the School Board to offset expenses of the Little Rock Public Education Foundation, through whose bank account the initial Hussman contribution was laundered to keep it secret.

It is Board policy to publicly vote to accept all contributions large and small to the School District. It is also a requirement of their contract with teachers that changes in compensation, such as the merit pay experiment, be subject to employee votes. Brooks ignored that rule and the Board's prerogative on this huge policy matter.

Violating a contract and board policy would be big news in the D-G if it happened at the LRCVB. When it concerns actions involving the newspaper's publisher, not so much. (They'll probably get on the ethics of the people circulating flyers against Brooks, though they wouldn't seem to have hit the $500 reporting threshhold just yet.)

I think if a majority wants to oust Brooks, it should make a fact-based case for doing so -- including, but not limited to, his top-down management style and his harsh statements about teachers and those who beg to differ with him on issues of legitimate debate. But the management issues are vitally important, too. I like the idea of an open inquiry. I think it would be eye-opening to many people signing the e-mails in support of Brooks on the strength of representations from friends to see Brooks in a public forum handle questions on policy and management. The man who, in sworn court testimony, couldn't remember the subject of his doctoral dissertation is not an effective communicator.

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