Columns » Max Brantley

City Board discovers LRSD

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An article in Sunday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reminded me of John Belushi in "Animal House" exhorting frat brothers to rally against a dean's effort to put them out of business. "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?"

The news: The Little Rock City Board of Directors may consider a long-delayed resolution asking the state to do a community impact study before closing, among others, Franklin and Wilson elementary schools and the Woodruff Early Childhood Center. The closure decision has already been made by state Education Commissioner Johnny Key. He's the "school board" of the district since its takeover by the state for academic reasons (three of its 48 schools fall short of the "sufficiency" standard based on test scores.)

The City Board has as much chance of warming Key's heart toward Little Rock as the "Animal House" frat boys had in using a toga party to get in good with the dean. The Democrat-Gazette managed to worm a rare quote from School Czar-in-Hiding Key.

"If they pass it, that would be their opinion, but I've addressed the issue of impact statements. I really don't have anything else to add on that," he said.

Screw Little Rock, in other words. Still, the City Board members should vote on the resolution. For one thing, it's time for directors to declare where they stand. For too many years, the board has ignored or even directly harmed the school district. Their unified voice might — might — prompt Key to encourage the state Board of Education to provide a little leeway for the school district in a return to local control. Some members of the City Board are known foes of the schools. Let them own their support for the state takeover and ouster of an elected school board. They've also been enablers of the continuing raid on Little Rock students by charter schools. I presume they are also clucking favorably about the state bill to give students' tax money to attend high-dollar private schools.

The City Board should demand answers from Key and the LRSD haters on the state Board of Education about the favorable treatment given failing charter schools. "No excuse" is the motto for Little Rock public schools. But ask about a failing Little Rock charter school and you're likely to get a sermon on the difficulties faced by those so-well-intentioned schools with their high-poverty, high-minority enrollments. It would be terribly unfair, they say, for an outside power to suddenly take control of those schools. No such tender mercy applies to the three lagging Little Rock schools, stuffed with poor minority students, significant numbers of them in special education or not yet fluent in English.

Being a charter school means never having to say you're sorry. Being a charter school means being allowed to get millions in state money to open in a school district that is closing successful neighborhood schools to save money.

Being a Little Rock school patron also means never being able to talk to the person (Key) who controls your schools and who's asking you for a half-billion dollars in additional tax authorization in a special election in May. Meanwhile, private, unaccountable charter schools stand ready to take over taxpayer-enhanced facilities at the first opportunity for bargain prices. The Waltons stand by, too, to cover any unexpected financial needs.

Anika Whitfield, a leader of the Save Our Schools coalition, told the Democrat-Gazette, "It is our hope that as we move forward together, our city leaders will continue to more visibly engage in actions that are meaningful to the people with which they were elected to serve."

It is PAST time for the Little Rock City Board to visibly engage. Does it favor local control? Or does it favor control by an unaccountable, unreachable bureaucrat with a legislative record damaging to traditional public education in Little Rock?

Back to Bluto in "Animal House": "It's not over until we say it's over."

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