Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A new date proposed for Little Rock school election; problems remain

Posted By on Wed, Feb 22, 2017 at 7:46 AM

JOHNNY KEY: Why should LR voters turn millions over to him?
  • JOHNNY KEY: Why should LR voters turn millions over to him?

Little Rock School Superintendent Mike Poore
told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette yesterday that he will propose to Education Commissioner Johnny Key a May 9 special election on extending the millage dedicated to construction bonds in the district by 14 years to pay for various construction projects and, not incidentally, continue a significant subsidy the money provides to operating expenses.

If Poore is proposing this I'm reasonably confident that he does so with the understanding that Key, who serves as the Little Rock School Board, will approve. Key doesn't answer questions from the public generally, but he's been pushing the need for the tax vote and has been making select appearances on feel-good topics (football and, in Latino SWLR, soccer) to build goodwill.

Goodwill is in short supply. The legislature is considering a bill that would force Little Rock to sell schools Key and Poore have decided to close to charter schools and further cripple the Little Rock School District. Key insists the district can't have democratic representation until every single one of 48 schools meets standardized test standards, with only three currently falling short, and barely so in at least one case.

I've written a column on the subject this week. The previous idea for a March election was scrapped because support was lacking in the community at that point to approve an additional half-billion-dollars plus in property tax payments to be controlled by Johnny Key. Does he still favor the legislation from 2015 to turn the district over to private school operators? Does he really favor closing a marvelously succeeding elementary, Wilson, but won't stand up against those who'd like to force the district to  give it (or Woodruff or Franklin) to a charter operator?

Little Rock is getting the shaft from the legislature and the state Board of Education. Absent some promises on district self-determination and protection from the advancing agenda of the school privatization movement, many voters are going to have a hard time persuading the majority black voting population of the district (that's right, the district is smaller than the city as a whole and includes the heavier minority neighborhoods) that it's in their interest to give control of a half-billion dollars to Johnny Key.

The Little Rock City Board has been shamefully silent on this issue (for decades). The business "leaders" have been Quislings on public schools. The state Board of Education is in the pocket — sometimes directly — of the Billionaire Boys Club, which is intent on LRSD wreckage in favor of charter schools and vouchers.

But there's a way out and Sen. Joyce Elliott has even provided a solid piece of legislation to guarantee what is probably already possible under existing law. The state Board has the power to grant tolerance to LRSD and return local control on the demonstrated improvement that has been made and the scant number of students still below the arbitrary standard for "sufficiency." Jay Barth, a state Board member from Little Rock, pointed this out last week. A demonstration of a little common sense and justice for Little Rock (including taking the legislature's mitts off our buildings) might help the tax drive.

For the record: The property tax proposal is for voters to authorize an additional 14 years of collection of 12.4 mills of property tax. It's not an increase in the rate, but it IS a vote for more taxes than currently authorized. That millage currently produces $40.1 million a year and the figure is growing based on property assess ts, so a half-billion is a modest estimate of the total new tax authorization being sought from voters. It will support up to $200 million in bonds. But currently about $26 million is going for operations, not bonds. The new bond vote will reduce the operating expense overage by about $4 million, another lick to a district losing students to charter schools Key continues to favor, including in neighborhoods where a succeeding school, Carver, was targeted for closure until a massive outcry. Similar protests didn't save Franklin, Wilson or the early childhood center at Woodruff.

ALSO:

The Arkansas Public Policy Panel has compiled this sheet of things wrong with the school facility takeover bill.

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