UPDATE: Now Mayor Stodola wants state to give Little Rock its school district back | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

UPDATE: Now Mayor Stodola wants state to give Little Rock its school district back

Posted By on Tue, May 16, 2017 at 7:04 AM

click to enlarge MAYOR STODOLA: Now he's talking local school control. A little late.
  • MAYOR STODOLA: Now he's talking local school control. A little late.
Mayor Mark Stodola circulated to Little Rock city directors last night a resolution he'll ask them to approve today that calls for the state Board of Education to return control of the Little Rock School District to local voters.

The resolution is months late. It is political cover for unhappiness over the City Board's dereliction in school matters. This was underscored by the crushing defeat of a school tax extension proposal, 65-35. Mayor Stodola and the City Board endorsed the tax.

Less than 12 hours after the school election polls closed I was on the phone with opponents of the tax talking about multiple possibilities for future candidates for mayor, their disillusionment with city leadership and, most of all, a fervent desire to end at-large election of three city directors. The at-large directors give the chamber of commerce effective control over city government. It was the chamber and its spear carriers who wanted the majority black school board removed under the pretext of academic distress. It was the chamber that wanted to keep Dexter Suggs, plagiarist and ineffective leader, as a stooge superintendent. It was the chamber that wanted a windfall for their members in the construction and bond business with a school tax extension poorly supported by the continuing raid on Little Rock students by charter schools.

Charter schools, you say? Don't look for the chamber or Mark Stodola to say anything about THAT. Stodola followed the chamber line pre-election that charter schools and lack of an elected board were just distractions from the pro-tax campaign. Fatal distractions, you might say.

So NOW Stodola is on board (if still silent about charter schools). Stodola mentions a new state law taking effect this summer that broadens the already existing ability of the state Board of Education to be flexible in removing Little Rock from the academic distress list and allowing it to elect its board members again.

Good luck with that. The majority of the state Board is controlled by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, sympathizers in the Walton-financed campaign against conventional school districts, particularly those with a teachers union. A real Little Rock leader would have spoken indignantly about the Waltons' financing of yet another charter school at 24th and Battery while making the argument that there's no quality education available in the neighborhood — thereby mortally smearing Gibbs, Dunbar, King, Washington, Stephens, Booker and Mann schools.

I predict the Little Rock Board resolution will have about as much influence as its resolution endorsing the school tax extension. For a taste of what's likely in store, consider state Board member Brett Williamson, an employee of the wealthy Murphy family, which is part of the Billionaire Boys Club intent on tearing down conventional public education. He's the one who remarked, after four Little Rock School District representatives made polite, heartfelt pleas to the board for a return of local control:

"With all due respect, I'm tired of hearing about the Little Rock School District. I've had it, OK? 
The resolution has so little meaning that it will be easy for those on the city board with enmity toward the School District to go along for show. They can read election results, too.

UPDATE: Mayor Stodola responds:

Based on your article today, you continue to have a very selective memory when it comes to City Hall and me specifically. You always choose to ignore several previous opportunities I have taken to speak out about our public schools. You conveniently ignore (I assume so you can influence your readers) the very public position I took on the termination of Baker Kurrus, including a letter, as reported in the newspaper, to the Governor requesting a reversal of the decision. I had met with Baker multiple times and agreed with him on his position concerning charter schools. You also ignore the public comments I have made that there are too many charter schools underperforming and that some of them should have their charters revoked; and you continue to ignore the fact that I testified before the legislature against SB 308 (Act542) which is designed to allow charter schools to acquire underutilized public school buildings. Again, all reported in the newspaper. Your virulent obsession about the Chamber clouds all objective judgment on your part.

We are damned if we do speak out and damned if we don’t from your catbird seat. I continue to believe that one of the major differences between the pro and anti millage supporters was one of timing. I believe all sides want improved facilities for our children. People that both you and I respect wound up on both sides of the issue. I understand and appreciate the no representation argument, but realized the local control decision is not one the Mayor or the City Board can control. I was of the belief, and still am, that a return to local control would have happened sooner had we passed the school millage proposal hence the timing of bringing this resolution forward. The pending resolution proposed might have even more impact had the millage passed. But just because the millage issue didn’t pass, is no excuse for not taking a position. Continuing with tired old buildings and 50 portable classrooms only makes it easier for people to move to surrounding cities who have invested in their school infrastructure. 10 charter school applications, some with major out of state experience, are pending at the Charter Review Committee right now. You are right about one thing, the City nor the mayor have any power or control over the Board of Education. Many of the comments directed to city leaders should appropriately be directed to the people who can do something about it, the Board of Education and the Governor’s office. The reason for passing a Resolution now is because it is my understanding the Board of Education will be meeting next month to discuss the implementation of Act 930 which provides several options for a return to local control. Let’s hope something is adopted that we can look forward to. Looking forward to your update.

Mark Stodola

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