State School Board member 'sick' of hearing about Little Rock School District; backers demand apology | Arkansas Blog

Friday, May 12, 2017

State School Board member 'sick' of hearing about Little Rock School District; backers demand apology

Posted By on Fri, May 12, 2017 at 9:28 AM


click to enlarge ANIKA WHIITFIELD: "Appalled' by education board member's commits on Little Rock School District.
  • ANIKA WHIITFIELD: "Appalled' by education board member's commits on Little Rock School District.
Little Rock School District supporters are outraged about an angry statement state Board of Education member Brett Williamson of El Dorado made at the end of a board meeting Thursday following several speakers who called for a return of local control of the district, taken over by the state two years ago because of six schools among 48 in academic distress.

During a public comment session, Samantha Toro, Rev. Maxine Allen, Vicki Hatter and Anika Whitfield spoke about the tax election this week and the Little Rock schools and urged a return of local control. Mireya Reith, chair of the state Board and one of those who'd voted against the state takeover, thanked the speakers and said their concern was one reason she'd scheduled a work session on the Little Rock district in June, now with only three of 48 schools in academic distress.

Education Commissioner Johnny Key, who functions as the district school board, has consistently said local control through an elected board can't return until ALL schools are judged proficient, though Board member Jay Barth and others say the board has discretion under state law to provide flexibility in that standard.

BRETT WILLIAMSON: 'Tired of hearing about Little Rock School District.'
  • BRETT WILLIAMSON: 'Tired of hearing about Little Rock School District.'
After Reith spoke, Williamson spoke up in an angry tone. You can listen at about the 5:00 mark on the video above.  He said:

"With all due respect, I'm tired of hearing about the Little Rock School District. I've had it, OK?

"Every month I've been on this board we've talked about the Little Rock School District. I know 26 or 28 months ago they were taken over. I know there were three of you that were here then who voted against it. I get that. Has there been any compelling information created from the district or the department that I haven't seen that would change my mind? Is anyone aware of that?"

Reith responded calmly that there are different interpretations of what might constitute compelling information and that's why she wanted to have a work session, to get information on "what compelling information might look like." She said board members are prohibited from talking informally outside of meetings about business matters so such a work session was necessary.

Diane Zook, a leader of the takeover movement and persistent critic of the district, lectured the speakers on the regular reports the board receives about Little Rock schools and their interest in the schools. She said it was important to consider more than percentages in individual schools falling short of proficiency but the total number of students in the district falling short. She estimated about a third of students weren't achieving basic proficiency.

That is NOT, however, the standard on which state takeover is based. And proficiency apparently is irrelevant when it comes to charter schools. The Board earlier yesterday voted to again give an academically failing and financially challenged charter school, Covenant Keepers, another chance to keep its permit to operate on public money against the recommendation of a departmental advisory group.

Williamson's remarks drew letters Thursday night from Whitfield and Marion Humphrey, the retired judge who led the fight against the school millage extension that Johnny Key and others backed.  Whitfield said in part:

As I sat beside Ms. Hatter's daughter, I felt disbelief and shock after Mr. Williamson said, "I am sick and tired of hearing about the LRSD." This middle school student I sat beside appeared to not only offended by Mr. Williamson's callous statement, but she seemed to be moved to tears. She said to me tearfully, "Dr. Whitfield, does that mean he doesn't care about us?"

I would ask that Mr. Williamson, not only publicly apologize to Ms. Hatter and her daughter who were present in the room when he spoke so firmly and callously about the LRSD, but I would also ask that he offer all of the students, parents, teachers, administrators and supporters of LRSD an apology. 
Humphrey said there was a growing sense among many in Little Rock that the state board wasn't interested in success of the district.

Moreover, I have thought all along that the vote to take over the Little Rock School District should not have been conducted with participation by several state Board of Education members, who had perceived conflicts of interests due to business interests of relatives, personal pursuit of new employment, and searching for program grants. The longer the current friction persists between the state board and patrons of the LRSD, the more likely it is that the public will be made aware of these perceived conflicts, leading to the loss of confidence in the integrity of decisions made by the state board. 
If Williamson felt sick, Humphrey suggest he might visit one of the many good physicians in Little Rock educated in the Little Rock School District.

I sent Williamson an e-mail asking him to explain his remarks, whether he would apologize and whether he'd damaged his ability to appear an impartial decision-maker when it came to the Little Rock School District. He has not responded.

There is a simple solution to someone sick of hearing about a school district under the control of the state Board of Education.

1) Return local control.

2) Resign from the board.

Given that public comment should be the bedrock of democracy, not a reason for an exasperated outburst by a nominal public servant, perhaps No. 2 is Williamson's best course.

Humphrey's veiled reference to conflicts of interest among board members includes Williamson, an employee of the Murphy Foundation, a charitable arm of the wealthy family that controls Murphy Oil. Members of the family have been financial supporters of the movement that has promoted charter school formation in Arkansas, a movement that has drained thousands of students from the Little Rock School District and continues to grow, with state Board oversight.


Tags: , , , , , , ,

From the ArkTimes store

Favorite

Comments (39)

Showing 1-39 of 39

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-39 of 39

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

Readers also liked…

  • IHOP coming down, but .....

    I always scan the Little Rock City Board for items of interest this week and this one caught my eye: A zoning measure required by a proposal to tear down the IHOP at Markham and University.
    • Apr 30, 2016
  • Trump's strangulation of Obamacare

    If he can't kill it outright, Donald Trump will do all he can to cripple Obamacare. Vox has detailed reporting on deep cuts in federal spending that support nonprofit agencies that help people sign up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
    • Sep 18, 2017
  • El Dorado challenges state Board transfer decision; raises broad question about 'choice' vs. segregation

    The El Dorado School District HAS gone to federal court in response to the state Board of Education's approval, over El Dorado's objection, of the transfer of a white student from El Dorado to the majority white Parkers Chapel School District.
    • Aug 18, 2016

Most Shared

  • Industrial hemp pilot program coming soon to Arkansas

    One of the booths at this week's Ark-La-Tex Medical Cannabis Expo was hosted by the Arkansas Hemp Association, a trade group founded to promote and expand non-intoxicating industrial hemp as an agricultural crop in the state. AHA Vice President Jeremy Fisher said the first licenses to grow experimental plots of hemp in the state should be issued by the Arkansas State Plant Board next spring.
  • The prayers of Rapert

    Sen. Jason Rapert is keeping a close eye on the Alabama Senate race.

Most Viewed

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Open line

    • Having the flu is a miserable experience and after I had it around this time…

    • on December 13, 2017
  • Re: Open line

    • MG, we have had it here this week, but we are lucky that it has…

    • on December 13, 2017
  • Re: Today in Tom Cotton's clothes

    • Asked how I would dress Cotton. Like you dress a deer after the hunt.

    • on December 13, 2017

Blogroll

 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation