UPDATE: Pulaski desegregation settlement still lacks John Walker's support | Arkansas Blog

Friday, November 15, 2013

UPDATE: Pulaski desegregation settlement still lacks John Walker's support

Posted By on Fri, Nov 15, 2013 at 9:39 AM

EDITING: Attorney General Dustin McDaniel at work on last-minute tweaks to desegregation settlement.
  • EDITING: Attorney General Dustin McDaniel at work on last-minute tweaks to desegregation settlement.

The Arkansas Legislative Council is meeting this morning on a proposed settlement of the Pulaski desegregation case. This would end obligations under a 1989 legislative settlement of claims against the state.

The start was delayed as lawyers worked on last-minute changes.

When the meeting finally began, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said that the Joshua intervenors, the black families in the county, still won't sign the agreement, despite a couple of changes this morning including addressing fears of additional school district splitoffs. He said he didn't know why state Rep. John Walker, attorney for the intervenors, still objects.

McDaniel said he believed the state could move ahead with the settlement on a precedent in a Kansas City case that allowed a settlement over the objections of a party. He thinks he can persuade the court of the benefits to all children and school districts in the county.

Other attorneys, including Walker, don't believe the case can be settled as long as Walker argues Pulaski County is not desegregated and as he long as he fights in the appeals court the state's continuing approval of open enrollment charter schools in Pulaski County.

However, Little Rock School Board approval of the settlement last night was conditioned on John Walker's agreement. McDaniel wants the Little Rock School Board to meet again to see if it will agree to settle without Joshua.

In that case, McDaniel said, he could proceed without Joshua. The additional support from Little Rock might also bring Joshua intervenors to the table. He contended the Little Rock failure to vote to proceed without Joshua gave Walker leverage to seek further concessions fro the Little Rock School District.

McDaniel asked for approval of the settlement with the understanding that he be given until midnight Tuesday to bring everyone together. If not, "My door is closed my phone is turned off, I'm done." The state would go to court Dec. 9 and try to end state funding immediately, "no matter how much damage that does" to the school districts.

The settlement proposes that the question of unitary, or desegregated, status of the Pulaski County Special School District be subject of a separate agreement between Joshua and the district,  but states that Joshua believes the county, now under state control, is working to resolve concerns (facilities are key). Joshua would release the state as a party and says the financial settlement outlined is satisfactory. Walker has said he hopes the county will direct specific financial aid to scholarships among other spending directed at the black students for whom the lawsuit was brought. It's unclear if his specific wishes on that point explain his continued resistance to joining the deal.

The agreement would end the pending appeal Walker has sought in an attempt to stop state approval of open enrollment charter schools in Pulaski County. The irony in this   is unavoidable. As all parties agree that the state has cured its past constitutional violations, it is approving charter schools likely to be segregated racially and economically.

The settlement continues to expressly support separation of a Jacksonville school district, but says: "The state will oppose the creation of any other school districts from PCSSD's territory until PCSSD is declared fully unitary and is released from federal court supervision." This is a reference to movements for secession in Maumelle and Sherwood. A new Jacksonville district would be created only if it agreed to the term that it be bound by this agreement.

There's no change in the financial settlement outlined yesterday by Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. It provides for a continuation of current payments totaling about $65 million to the three districts for four years after this school year. The districts will phase out magnet school and a racially based transfer program.

If there are any changes today in the settlement, it will require another round of Little Rock and North Little Rock school board meetings for approval. (CORRECTION: Absent major changes, the school board approvals give attorneys leeway to make small changes.) The governor must also approve, but he's been working with McDaniel throughout the discussions relative to the state's financial cost. Federal Judge Price Marshall will also have to approve.

McDaniel said he'd agreed with Joshua that the agreement could specifically acknowledge that group's ability to work out side deals with Little Rock and that the settlement would specifically say that approval of Jacksonville's separation should not be taken as approval of any other district creations.

He said it was the second day he'd been disappointed by Walker at the last minute when he thought he could announce a "glorious" agreement by all parties.

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