Sen. Joyce Elliott: "stunned" by Kurrus firing, harms trust for backing governor's Medicaid budget scheme | Arkansas Blog

Monday, April 18, 2016

Sen. Joyce Elliott: "stunned" by Kurrus firing, harms trust for backing governor's Medicaid budget scheme

Posted By on Mon, Apr 18, 2016 at 10:32 PM

ELLIOTT: What's happening in Little Rock is a breach of faith."
  • ELLIOTT: What's happening in Little Rock is a breach of faith."
I asked Sen. Joyce Elliott about the firing of Baker Kurrus as Little Rock school superintendent, and also asked her about the timing given that Gov. Asa Hutchinson is working on building a coalition with Democrats this week on his proposed plan to pass the Medicaid budge (and had a positive meeting with the Legislative Black Caucus on that topic just this morning). Elliott was dismayed by the firing and upset that it happened when the governor was asking for Democrats' help on the budget. She said that the Medicaid budget was ultimately a separate issue and she remained committed to finding a way forward. She stopped short of saying that she would withhold support for the governor's scheme because of the Kurrus firing, but said that the firing "gives me pause" on the Medicaid deal.  

Elliott's reaction to the firing: 

I'm just stunned that this has happened at a time when the report card — which I don't give much respect to at all, but the school report card which is the measure of the folks who believe in this kind of takeover and competition among schools — by their own report card, the Little Rock School District is making progress. And under the leadership of Baker Kurrus and working with the union — and the union giving to make sure things are better — just when we see progress and just when we begin to get some stability in this district, the very people who supposedly took over the district because of instability are just creating more instability. They were supposed to be the ones who were going to make sure that families and students in this district knew that there was a way forward. 

I think Baker Kurrus had done a terrific job under circumstances that were not amenable to anybody taking this position. I just know personally, he virtually worked around the clock to be inclusive and to try to build up a morale in this district so that people would believe there was a reason for moving forward, so that teachers would know somebody was making a difference. 

I said all along, I thought it was absolutely wrong and counterintuitive that Johnny Key was made the Commissioner of Education without any knowledge of sound education policy. I said the same thing about Baker. But I also said about both of them that once they are in the position, I'm going to do what I can to make sure that they are successful, because that's what students and parents deserve.

It seems to me that, apparently, Johnny Key and the governor seem determined to snatch success away from this school district because [success] is what was going on by their own measures. 

Elliott said she didn't know enough about Baker's likely replacement, Bentonville Superintendent Michael Poore (who resigned tonight), to have an opinion about him. "But think about what it means that in Little Rock we already have people who are running the District — in terms of the governor and Johnny Key — who really are not attuned to what matters in this District from a cultural perspective," she said. "But now we're going to bring somebody else in to replace a person who is Little Rock-centric."

Elliott said that the move to fire Kurrus was destablizing and "totally dismissive of this community."

"Somebody needs to tell me what Baker Kurrus was doing that was wrong," she said. "What’s wrong with advancement? What is it that you expect this new person to do differently? This community deserves to know that."

I asked Elliott about the timing given the Medicaid budget fight and Hutchinson’s warm visit with the Black Caucus this morning.

It bothers me tremendously because just this morning when the governor was having a conversation with the Black Caucus [including a number of legislators representing Little Rock] about finding a way forward [on Medicaid], which I really appreciate, and at the same time, he knew what was going on behind the scenes here with the school district that we all represent. And we have heard nothing about it. I find that very troubling. 
Elliott said that the mood in the Black Caucus meeting had been extremely positive and that after the meeting she was strongly leaning toward supporting the governor's plan to use the line-item veto to continue the Medicaid expansion. Obviously, Elliott said, the Medicaid budget is a separate issue from the Kurrus firing, and her aim is still to find a way forward on Medicaid. But she said that the announcement of the Kurrus firing undercut the positive coalition-building that happened this morning. 

"It absolutely does give me pause," she said. "I want to be clear, I'm not saying I won't try to find a resolution. But is is very difficult to think back to the good vibes this morning of our conversation, and the pleasant exchange. When you need something from us, things are just great on the surface. I don't know how you could sit there and have that conversation knowing that behind the scenes we're really getting ready to upset the stability in this School District once again when supposedly that was the reason it was taken over in the first place."

Elliott concluded: 

What's happening in Little Rock is a breach of faith. This arrangement that was happening in the Little Rock School District was not anything that I was ever for. But I was determined to try to make it work. The same thing is true about the health care issue. This is not an arrangement that I wanted but I was determined to do something to help make it work. Now in the first [situation] there has been a breach of faith. Yes, it makes me wonder whether there's a breach of faith on the horizon for the second. It does make me wonder.

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