Little Rock School District gives 11th-hour notice of plan to sell vacant building to Waltons | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Little Rock School District gives 11th-hour notice of plan to sell vacant building to Waltons

Posted By on Wed, Aug 9, 2017 at 6:45 PM

click to enlarge SOLD TO THE WALTONS: The former Garland School.
  • SOLD TO THE WALTONS: The former Garland School.
Little Rock School Superintendent Mike Poore announced after the close of business today that he'd recommended the sale of a vacant building, the former Garland School at 3615 W. 25th Street, to KLS Leasing, a company used by the Walton Family Foundation to purchase other buildings in Little Rock and North Little Rock and other cities for charter schools.

As originally announced, it appeared the news of Poore's recommendation came AFTER the meeting at which the "Little Rock School Board," meaning Education Commissioner Johnny Key, had already met. Key runs the district since it was taken over by the state.

click to enlarge screen_shot_2017-08-09_at_7.22.38_pm.png
CLARIFICATION: Although the agenda supplied by LRSD clearly said there was a meeting today at 5:30 p.m., Pamela Smith responded to my queries by saying that there was no meeting today.

The meeting has not taken place; all we’ve done is posted the information and submitted the packet to the commissioner. We were sharing this information so you would be aware of the recommendation. The August 9 date referenced on the Agenda represents the date the Agenda was submitted to the commissioner.

Noted: The district and Key have pulled a fast one before, with a "board meeting" not announced and confirmed after the fact after I got a tip about a $90 million bond deal.

When is the meeting then? Will the public be invited? In any case, Poore has declared he will not take questions about the issue unitl AFTER Key has rendered his decision.

Does any decision reached at a meeting not announced ahead of time meet the legal standard?  Is the Little Rock School "Board" bound by the law that applies to other school boards? Should the community have a say in sale of a building, particularly to an organization bent on destroying the Little Rock School District as it was once constituted?  (The Walton lobbyists backed the legislation in 2015 to take over the entire district for private management and have underwritten charter schools that in time will take thousands of students out of LRSD, often with inferior results.)

The building is to be sold for $425,000. The sale is essentially unconditional. It doesn't specify a use. I'd note that The Walton Family Foundation is supporting at least three new charter schools for Little Rock at next week's meeting of the state charter authorizing panel and one application, for an Einstein Group school, said in its initial application that its location was to be determined. The private management group, which operates four charter schools in New Orleans, hopes to eventually enroll 600 children in grades K-8. Perhaps Kathy Smith of the Walton Foundation, who signed the purchase agreement, can tell you about the planned use for Garland. She will not talk to the Arkansas Times.

I"ve also sent a note to Key asking if the deal has been done and if a use for the building has been discussed. I've also asked why notice isn't given to the public about these "board meetings."

The Garland school dates back to 1922, with some later additions. It's been used most recently for some administrative offices but is now vacant. It's about a half-mile from Stephens Elementary, a school in which the district has invested much effort over the years to lift the predominantly black and poor students it serves.

Secretive deal-making is just wrong. Even more so if it's part of an underhanded advancement of the Waltons agenda to charterize the Little Rock School District. if the deal is what it appears to be, it's another blow to the Little Rock School District. If you had any belief Poore might be independent as Key's hire after he fired Baker Kurrus over resistance to charter school expansion, banish the thought. Poore is Key's facilitator. He said nothing about the Waltons' trashing of good Little Rock schools when they said there was a neighborhood need for the charter they're supporting in the old Mitchell School. He now seems to be readily handing another school over for their use. The state Board and Key have evinced no interest in returning democratic control to the district — in the case of several members there's even outright antagonism. The erosion will continue until, finally, there's nothing left but a husk for private organizations to run, as has been done in New Orleans and other cities. Coming in 2019, Poore told me just this week, by the way, is a reconfiguring of the attendance zones of Central High School. This is a long-sought aim of the Walton-financed charter school lobby so as to put it out of reach of many of the residual number or high-achieving kids that have made Central an education magnet. It doesn't do to have a high-achieving integrated high school when the Waltons want to ravage them all. Poore insisted that the zone change would be perhaps just a "tweak." Tonight, I don't have much reason to be confident in that assurance.

The "Little Rock School Board" also will appoint some administrators and make changes in the student handbook at its "special meeting."  Or maybe it's already been held if the printed agenda is accurate. You can check it out here.



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