Suit filed over Little Rock School District takeover | Arkansas Blog

Friday, February 20, 2015

Suit filed over Little Rock School District takeover

Posted By on Fri, Feb 20, 2015 at 6:55 PM

Three former members of the defunct Little Rock School Board have joined a lawsuit filed in Pulaski Circuit Court challenging the state takeover of the district on administrative procedure grounds. The suit was assigned to Judge Wendell Griffen.

Plaintiffs: Former school board members Jim Ross, C.E. McAdoo and Diane Curry and a resident of the school district's Ward 1.

Defendants: The state Board of Education and Tony Wood, the state Education Department director.

Attorneys: Rickey Hicks Jr., Marion Humphrey and Willard Proctor. Humphrey is a retired circuit judge. Proctor is a former circuit judge who lost his seat over ethical matters. 

Question: How long will Griffen stay on this case? Not long, I wouldn't think. See our Arkansas Blog post after the takeover. We printed his statement to the now-defendants, which said in part:

I urge you to reject the attempt to disenfranchise the voters who have entrusted the Little Rock School Board with responsibility for governing the Little Rock School District for two reasons.

First, there is no evidence whatsoever that the Little Rock School District is not lawfully governed by the presently composed Little Rock School Board (LRSB). Each LRSB member holds office after having won election by registered voters within the LRSD. The votes have been counted and the election results were duly certified. Any action which divests governance of the Little Rock School District from its democratically elected Board will amount to impeachment of each Board member, without trial and with without any charge that any Board member, let alone the entire Board, has committed an offense deserving impeachment. And such action would subject the electors of the Little Rock School Board to taxation without representation.

Here's a link to the full lawsuit.

It notes that the Board took over the district for score shortcomings at a small minority — six — of district schools and lists many achievements of the district. It notes, too, the specific efforts made by the district to address shortcomings at the six schools in academic distress.

The suit raises an "arbitrary and capricious" argument against the takeover. It compares Little Rock with Lee County, where a district that was taken over (and recently adjudged clear of academic distress) had failed to have 42 of 67 seniors on track to graduate. It noted, too, disparate treatment with Dollarway, Strong-Hutting and Pulaski County schools, some also with schools in distress that are not in takeover as a result. It raises, too, the recent criticism of many of the state board action:

It does not appear that ADE has developed any plan which would significantly change the improvement efforts currently underway in the six schools.

Officials have said the plan is under study. And the suit notes that distressed schools, used to justify state takeover, are already "state directed" for past shortcomings. Here, I think is the core argument:

To the extent Ark. Code Ann. § 6-15-430(b) purportedly allows SBE to take over a school district which is not in academic distress and remove its board of directors simply because a school or schools within the district are in academic distress, it violates the Arkansas Constitution.

It was inevitable this would end in court. Let the lawyers begin. Noted: Joy Springer, a Little Rock School Board member who's worked with civil rights lawyer John Walker over the years on school litigation, is not a plaintiff. Nor are the three others who served on the defunct board. The suit asks that the takeover be enjoined. 

In conclusion: plaintiffs pray that this Court enter an order declaring that the acts of the Arkansas State Board of Education to be arbitrary, capricious, in bad faith, wanton, and ultra vires, issue the writ of prohibition, issue the writ of mandamus, and order the Defendants to return control of the LRSD to the duly elected Board of Directors of the LRSD, award Plaintiff attorney fees and cost of this action, together with all other just and proper relief to which they are entitled.

State law and the Lakeview decision imbue the state and its agents, such as the state board, with immense power. The record of lawsuits challenging administrative actions on arbitrary grounds is not positive for the challenge. But that's why they have courts. But for recent U.S. Supreme Court developments, I always thought the best challenge here was a challenge on racial grounds.

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