Wednesday, April 29, 2015

LR school supporters accuse state of delay tactic

Posted By on Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 9:40 AM

click to enlarge ourschools.jpg
It's been three months since the state Board of Education, on "urgent" basis, took over the Little Rock School District and fired its school board (though not immediately its deficient superintendent) because of low test scores in six of 48 district schools. Since then, little has happened.

A support group, Our Community, Our Schools, isn't happy  about the lack of progress under state control. Today, it particularly focuses on the state Education Department's request for oral arguments before the state Supreme Court on the question of whether the state may be sued to overturn the takeover. 

I think they have a point. The state's immunity is a question of legal interpretation. It would seem to me the issue could be decided on legal briefs. Supporters of return of democratic control of the district think the request for oral arguments is just a delaying tactic, because it would add time to the schedule for deciding the case. The Arkansas Supreme Court hasn't demonstrated expeditiouis traits in tough cases. The same-sex marriage case lingers after a year, with a decision on an extraneous step a four-member court majority created out of whole cloth still to be decided before the court can get to the merits of the case.

If the Supreme Court can string out the intermediate legal question on the school case long enough, then there will be the court's lengthy summer recess. And, if the stars align, maybe the Christmas recess, too. And someday, citizens of the Little Rock School District might get a chance to argue for return of their school district. But given the political thermometer of the new court, it's hard to imagine a decision in favor of the Little Rock District, which Gov. Asa Hutchinson, his Education Commissioner Johnny Key and the Walton lobbying combine had targeted for privatization.

Barclay Key, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, sends  the group's statement:

The state Board of Education has a funny way of putting children first. They have requested oral arguments before state Supreme Court, another delay tactic. Here is a statement that we just posted.


Today marks three months since the state takeover. Yesterday attorneys for the state board of education (SBE) asked the state supreme court to hold oral arguments, in addition to written briefs, over whether or not we have legal standing in suing the state for the takeover of the Little Rock School District (LRSD). If their request is honored, it will further delay our quest for justice.

The SBE claimed that the takeover of the entire district was because six of our forty-eight schools were labeled as “academically distressed,” but subsequent events suggest otherwise. We know that the SBE had no specific plan to build upon what the LRSD was doing before the takeover. We know that the SBE’s next action was to appoint a financial advisory committee for the LRSD, even though the LRSD was not in financial distress. We know that the state legislature had to change the law in order to make the new state education commissioner “qualified” to oversee the state’s public school system, and we know this person is now responsible for the LRSD. We know that the person who was retained as the LRSD superintendent was removed last week because he plagiarized his dissertation, and we know that his testimony in circuit court (before the state supreme court halted the proceeding) directly contradicted the testimony of elected board members and an associate superintendent. Most members of the SBE heard this testimony and did nothing. We know that all of these actions have created turmoil and uncertainty at a time when many people had been rebuilding trust in the LRSD. We know that all of these actions have done nothing—NOTHING—to address the real educational challenges that our community faces.

We review these facts now because many people are still learning what transpired, and local media, particularly the daily newspaper, remain either willfully ignorant or outright dishonest about these facts.

Meanwhile, we are left to conclude that the SBE is either incompetent or purposefully sabotaging the LRSD. Whatever the case, their decisions have proven that they are dysfunctional and incapable of effectively governing. They regularly give free passes to charter schools that do not meet expectations, and they grant privileges to their friends who operate or govern charter schools. Their standards for “academically distressed” change, and they do not consistently apply penalties for “academically distressed” schools.

Since 78% of our students are Black or Hispanic and 63% of our students qualify for free/reduced lunch, we cannot help but wonder if the SBE is simply indifferent. The SBE removed an elected board that showed clear commitment to our students. They replaced that board with a political appointee from Mountain Home. Teachers have widely reported that the SBE hasn’t visited these “academically distressed” schools. The SBE’s actions communicate all we need to know about whose children they “put first.”


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