LRSD and the charter school talks | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

LRSD and the charter school talks

Posted By on Wed, Apr 28, 2010 at 4:56 PM

Little Rock School Board member Baker Kurrus last week circulated an opinion critical of School District attorney Chris Heller's first proposal to settle a dispute with the state over open enrollment charter schools in Pulaski County. It's part of discussions aimed at ending county school desegregation legislation, both in terms of state financial support to three school districts and whether the state will take any action to insure that magnet schools don't continue to contribute to school segregation.

Heller responded Tuesday in a memo to board members shared with me. Kurrus' initial comment comes first, then Heller's response.

FROM BAKER KURRUS

I assume I received a copy of the settlement proposal put forward by LRSD so that I could offer up my thoughts about it. 
 
In my opinion this settlement proposal is far too complex to be workable, even if all of the parties agreed to it as written.  Such a settlement, like all of the others, would be the beginnings of more endless litigation. I request that our counsel advise the other parties that I had no hand in crafting this proposal, and that I am not supportive of it.  I would  prefer to make this clear now, before this goes any further, rather than argue against this proposal when it comes to the board.  I would also appreciate the superintendent or our counsel telling me how LRSD came to put this most convoluted proposal forward. 
 
If we wish to attract students, we should magnetize our LRSD schools with excellence.  Good students find their way into good schools.  Right now Pulaski Heights Middle is full because parents want to send their kids there.  It is desegregated.  It is not a magnet, and it receives no extra funding.  If our concern is desegregation, we have ample numbers of white students who reside in the boundaries of LRSD.  They choose to go elsewhere.  If we focused on quality, we might get some of them back.  In the meantime, all of our kids would benefit because we would improving our schools for the kids we now have.
 
We need to stop blaming others, and get to work improving the things we can control. 
 
As I have said repeatedly, I do not think our problems are caused by a lack of funding.  I would support a settlement that ended state funding by reducing the payments by 1/7th per year.  This  is simple, and understandable.  The magnet schools would either go away, and we would be left to  do what all other schools in Arkansas are called to do, or we would work out magnet schools on terms satisfactory to NLR and PCCSD. 

FROM CHRIS HELLER

baker - the proposal to continue the magnet schools comes from both the impact of the state's constitutional violations (residential segregation) and the board's desire to find a way to continue that program. the use of assignment criteria other than race comes from both the supreme court cases requiring a "narrowly tailored" remedy and the fact that racial classifications are divisive. we may want to refine the criteria even more and consider using census tracts or geocodes rather than f/r lunch status to achieve socio-economic diversity. the proposed accountability provisions for charters are basically the same ones the board approved for ucpc. the idea of requiring transportation to charter schools so that poor children could attend is something we talked about at several board meetings. the more difficult question, then, was how to deal with existing open enrollment charter schools. the board has moved from the position of opposing charter schools to the position of accepting that charter schools might operate in ways that benefit students, serve their original mission, do not undermine the traditional public schools, and do not clearly violate the requirements of the settlement agreement. one way of doing that is to attempt to bring the charter schools into conformity with the requirements of the settlement agreement. i'm sure there are other ways to do the same things. i included all those "whereas" clauses so people could see what we think the issues are and how we might solve them. i've explained to the parties that we are committed to addressing these problems but not necessarily in the exact ways set out in our proposal. if someone has a better idea, we'll do it that way. that's why it's important for you and the other board members to continue to express your views on these issues. since my job is to take what the board has said so far and attempt to negotiate an agreement that the board might approve, i'm going to have to exercise some judgment along the way. ch
 
ps - we will meet again with the attorney general on thursday at noon.
 

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