Time to settle the school case | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Time to settle the school case

Posted By on Tue, Sep 20, 2011 at 7:33 AM

BAKER KURRUS: Negotiate!
  • BAKER KURRUS: Negotiate!
I wrote yesterday and I remain confident that the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals isn't about to uphold Judge Brian Miller's Twilight Zone ruling that ended state desegregation aid payments without notice, evidence, a hearing, briefs or so much as a by-your-leave. As questioning appellate judges noted yesterday, even Judge Miller, no longer on the case, had said he intended to put aside the state funding issue for another time.

The overwhelming likelihood is that the issue will come back to Judge Price Marshall for consideration along with several remaining Pulaski school lawsuit issues, including the fight over charter schools. Little Rock argues that the state has contributed to segregation with their establishment, which it certainly has. It's also true, however, that the state Board of Education seems now to have a better understanding of its mission and this includes deep review both of applications for charters and the performance of those that are approved.

All of which is a runup to say that today is a good time to hear again from Baker Kurrus, a lawyer and former Little Rock School Board member, who wrote provocatively last November for us about his 12-year tenure on the Board.

Kurrus sent me a short note in May about Judge Miller's odd decision. He thought that the place to discuss state aid was along with the charter and other issues. No fan of charter schools, Kurrus has nonetheless accepted their inevitability and the inevitability that the Little Rock district must play the cards it's been dealt. In short, he thought in May it was past time for the district to get serious about negotiating a phase-out of state desegregation aid. If the 8th Circuit rules as I expect — and I'm not sure the parties need to wait given the tenor of questioning yesterday — might it be time again for the Little Rock district to plan aggressively for the eventual loss of the state money and to work with the state for the best possible negotiated phase-in of that day?

Today, what Kurrus wrote to me in May after a bout of lawn mowing still seems pertinent:

I wasn't greatly surprised by Judge Miller's ruling, but I thought it would come in the context of the motion Chris Heller filed with respect to charter schools. I put that concern, and the possibility of a complete loss of state deseg assistance, in a memo to the board some time ago.... I also suggested that LRSD settle for a seven-year phase out of the deseg money, as offered by the AG. The school board would not vote for that. The board was advised by counsel that the state quite well could be obligated to fund the deseg effort forever. Some board members bought into that, and couldn't conceive of a district without the millions in deseg money, even if kids were failing. We really need to know why some board members would not agree to settlement on such favorable terms. That was a colossal mistake, made out of concern for adults and with disregard for students. Tragic.

An important point that seems to be lost is that many of LRSD's most successful schools are not interdistrict magnets, and do not receive any extra funding.

If you look at successful schools like Central, Pulaski Heights and Fulbright, they have desegregated student populations, relatively high achievement by all subgroups, and they get practically no deseg money.

There should be a huge push for settlement now, and all efforts should be directed to settlement.

The primary holding of Lakeview was the State of Arkansas is responsible for the education of its students. No purpose is served by the failure of the districts in the case. I don't think the ADE, the AG or the governor wants to punish LRSD at the expense of its students. The failure would fall squarely in the state's lap.


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