McDaniel counters Little Rock school settlement offer | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, October 17, 2013

McDaniel counters Little Rock school settlement offer

Posted By on Thu, Oct 17, 2013 at 1:58 PM

'THE FIRST OFFER'': John Walker has cool response to counter from Attorney General McDaniel.
  • 'THE FIRST OFFER'': John Walker has cool response to counter from Attorney General McDaniel.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel today countered a Little Rock School District offer to end desegregation litigation in return for a $42 million annual payment for seven years (or the amount in a lump sum) and limited state ability to punish the school district for financial and academic shortcomings.

McDaniel had already said the surprise Little Rock proposal was a non-starter. He reiterated that formally today, but came back with a counter-offer, which he extended to all three school districts involved in the litigation (North Little Rock and Pulaski County also).

He proposed a settlement covering all three districts with additional state payments of about $49 million in addition to the almost $70 million already budgeted for the 2013-14 school year for all three.

My original post on this was badly in error. There would be just a one-year additional payment, not a four-year payment, of $49 million. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals earlier had reversed a district judge's order to stop the payments this year and ordered them to continue at the current level, so McDaniel is providing nothing by allowing that money to continue.

The additional payments would be split this way on a quarterly basis: Little Rock, $7 million; North Little Rock, $1.4 million, Pulaski County, $3.9 million. (Little Rock currently gets about $42 million a year. This would reduce it to $28 million for one more year.)

In addition to being an immediate reduction by $21 million in one year for the three districts and termination after that, the offer compares with a proposal by McDaniel several years ago that would have paid the districts more than $55 million a year for seven years. The districts rejected it.

The state is before the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals now trying to end its payments to the districts and also fighting the Little Rock District's efforts to stop state approval of open enrollment charter schools in the county. They have in several cases served to drain higher income and higher achieving students from the three districts to free schools that don't have elected oversight. More applications are pending, including one to open a charter school backed by Walton Foundation money to serve a higher income white neighborhood with middle school and high school grades.

McDaniel said he would accept this part of Little Rock's proposal:

The State will agree that LRSD, PCSSD and NLRSD may phase out the interdistrict magnet school program by not enrolling new interdistrict transfer students in those programs for the 2014-15 school-year and beyond.

The funds received by LRSD under this Agreement will not be counted as local revenue.

It turns out to be an empty agreement. It provides no additional money for the interdistrict and magnet programs. Any additional cost of the schools (which have additional resources and also benefit from transportation aid) would come out of the one-year additional payment. The magnet program has been a big bone of contention. The districts have contended the state was permanently committed to the magnet and transfer programs as a means of encouraging desegregation. The district's willingness to give this up was one of several significant givebacks, but it's hard to see a willingness to effectively give up support for it instantly after the end of this year.

The state also would agree to pay "reasonable" attorney fees.

Attorneys now will resume their round-robins with school board members and superintents. In Pulaski's case, the school board is state Education Director Tom Kimbrell because it is in state receivership.

McDaniel said in a news release: " ... It is a fair and reasonable resolution that balances the needs of the districts with the obligations of the State to provide an equitable and adequate education to all students. I encourage the school districts to accept this offer so that we can finally end this costly and distracting litigation and focus our attention on where it belongs – in classrooms, not courtrooms.”

I have a call out to Chris Heller, the Little Rock district's attorney, who made the first proposal. But I have reached John Walker, attorney for black children in the case. He'd already talked to Heller and said Heller had indicated the offer was inadequate.

"It's the first offer," is how Walker characterized it. But Walker is in a posture apart from the Little Rock District. He said the new superintendent Dexter Suggs, who's credited with initiating the talks, had "set the tone." Said Walker: "He just said, 'Give us the money and we'll run.' That makes no sense."

Walker said the district had started with a "noble purpose" — to "provide good education for all the students ho live in the district." But now, he said, the district is, in effect, saying it's willing to give up means to that end, including magnet schools and interdistrict transfers for money.

He said Heller had indicated he'd talk to the Little Rock School Board about it next week.

PS — Some, including McDaniel, are calling this a $119 million settlement. It is NOT. $70 million must be paid by court order this year no matter what. That's already decided. It's not McDaniel's to give or take.

UPDATE: Heller responded to me with a copy of the note he'd sent to School Board members:

Board Members and Dr. Suggs – I have attached the settlement proposal which we sent to the Attorney General on September 27. The Attorney General’s response, which we received today, is also attached. We proposed seven years of funding at the current rate beginning next year. The AG has offered less than the amount we would receive in one year. We proposed language that would prohibit retaliation by the State and language which would prohibit State takeover or consolidation of LRSD during the seven-year transition. The AG wants immediate release from all obligations with no such conditions. We made the settlement proposal on behalf of LRSD but have said we would be open to an effort to reach a global settlement including all parties. The AG’s position is that “the settlement must be global”. We should put this on the agenda for the regular Board meeting next week. In the meantime, I will work with Dr. Suggs and Mr. Bailey, and meet with the lawyers for the other parties, so that you will have as much information as possible as you consider a response. Please feel free to call me if you have any questions. 

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