LRSD musing --UPDATE | Arkansas Blog

Saturday, April 7, 2007

LRSD musing --UPDATE

Posted By on Sat, Apr 7, 2007 at 9:15 AM

Further thoughts re Supt. Roy Brooks and last night's Little Rock School Board meetihng:

1) After I went to bed, it occurred to me that I should have emphasized that Board member Baker Kurrus distributed the same message he had prepared for Thursday, when it was expected that the board would move quickly to oust Brooks.

2) Board president Katherine Mitchell plans another meeting, with two days' notice, the D-G reports. UPDATE -- It's been clarified for me that two days' notice is required to call a special meeting, though it's within the president's power to call one. Other subjects relevant to the call can be added, but only by agreement of all board members. If Mitchell calls a meeting on Brooks' employment and a board member asks for public comment before a board decision, I hope all board members will agree to hearing from the public.

3) Brooks has hired a lawyer (from Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman's law firm; wonder if he's getting some help on that legal tab?). He was seen leaving the law firm's office building with a sheaf of papers shortly before the meeting. We can presume at least some board members were informed of contractual technicalities before Friday's 2.5-hour closed meeting.

4) Brooks is entitled under his contract to a hearing by a neutral party, the Democrat-Gazette reported today. Clearly, we need to see the full contract . Is this just to protect Brooks for a payout in the event of a premature firing? His contract has two years to run. Could  the hearing be enforced in the case of a buyout? Still, I presume the third-party hearing is only advisory, not binding as to outcome. The board majority could have the hearing, take the results and still vote to terminate him. UPDATE: I further believe the hearing is necessary only for a firing for cause that would immediately terminate pay. It would not be necessary for a buyout.

In short, it seems the jubilant, tear-drenched celebration last night by Brooks' supporters was likely for little more than a delay, not a final outcome.

An observation: Brooks was a brutal pragmatist when he took the job, with 5-2 board support. He ignored the two minority members to the point of disrespect. He made the cold calculation that they could do nothing for him so he would do likewise for them. He'd have been better to follow the example of administrators like, say, City Manager Bruce Moore. He attempts, to the lengths possible, to keep all board members happy even on issues where the outcome is clear. You never know what friends you might need some day.

What I have yet to see -- but I am open to testimony from others on the point -- how Brooks has changed his strategy in response to the board's new political dynamic after last September's board election. He seems to still take direction, such as he takes any, from the board minority, along with Publisher Hussman, the LR chamber and others not elected to run the system.

I also know, because I've heard it, Brooks' continued harsh criticism of certain board members (and teachers). I was told that, in one private board session, he apologized to Board president  Mitchell. I've never heard any public utterance of that sort. Or an expressed public willingness to work with Acorn. Or the CTA. Or the neighborhood groups inflamed over the closure of some inner city elementaries (closures, which, by the way, I support Brooks on.) The angry white mommas don't seem to understand that this dispute isn't so simplistic as they believe. It doesn't merely pit their benevolence and goodness against a malevolent union and John Walker.

It seems unlikely that this can be solved with this Board and this superintendent. One or the other must change. I'd love for a reconciliation process. But it's become a football game, where winning is the only thing for too many participants. Those now in the minority think by shouting loudly enough -- many of them throwing in racially-tinged remarks about Katherine Mitchell as they shout -- they can somehow defeat the democratic process. Won't it be ironic if the people who trumpet the glories of being released from federal court as one of Brooks' victories (it's an oversold victory if I ever heard one), will be happy to litigate to the death to preserve the job of a man who's never publicly reached out to his critics?

As for the black majority: Mitchell did some of this in her interview Friday, but she and her allies owe a thorough public explanation of their unhappiness with Brooks. (It would help if the Democrat-Gazette would print more of what Mitchell has said, repeatedly, on this subject.) The majority also needs to offer some assurances about the future of the district should Brooks be removed. Kurrus' fear of a takeover of the district based solely on racial politics is a fear that must be allayed, not only by reassuring words but with specific ideas of what they have in mind should that day come, both in terms of leadership and, if any, changes of direction. I, for one, would like to hear a continued commitment to a new school in west Little Rock..

I also wish the board majority had given some consideration to Board member Melanie Fox's idea for some sort of third-party mediation/discussion of differences. It's likely too late for that now.


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