by Max Brantley
Friday afternoon of an already-begun long holiday weekend is the perfect time to drop a giant report, isn't it? We just picked up hundreds of pages of work by William Gordon Associates of Saluda, N.C., which reported to the state Education Department on questions concerning Pulaski County school districts, as ordered by the 2005 legislature.
Should the financially troubled Pulaski County Special District continue to exist? (Answer: Yes.)
Is there a way to end desegregation litigation? (Answer: Yes.)
Is there a way for the state to stop spending money on Pulaski schools? (Answer: Yes.)
Some quick takes, all taken from the consultants' report. The Education Department itself is reserving judgment until after the holiday.
* It's a bad idea to combine everything north of the Arkansas River into one district. Difficult to manage and NLR would lose its strong sense of community.
* Two districts north of the river -- an expanded NLR district and a Jacksonville district -- is more appealing to the consultants.
* "There is logic" to expanding Little Rock School District to cover all the territory south of the river.
* BUT: No reorganization is legally feasible given the current status of desegregation litigation. Plus, the troubled Pulaski district would carry obligations that would be hard for other districts to assume. Plus, Pulaski won't work to get out of court if it thinks that would then be an excuse for the legislature to vote it out of existence.
* SO ... The consultants suggest that all three districts should push for unitary status, which the consultants believe they've achieved, with an assurance given to the Pulaski district that it would continue to exist.
* THEN Create a Jacksonville school district.
* End majority-to-minority student transfers among the three districts. And phase out state funding for such transfers.
* Continue LR magnet schools for countywide use to encourage diversity in LR.
* Provide equality in course offerings at all schools.
* Emphasize school choice and targeted recruitment to increase diversity in school enrollments.
* A five-year phaseout of state deseg funding for the three existing school districts and the new Jacksonville district. The consultants said this should be adequate "in making the transition to self-sufficiency and ending the state's desegregation funding obligations."
All this was not so easily said nor will it be easily done. Legislation would be necessary. State leadership would be necessary. Support from the intervenors led by civil rights lawyer John Walker would be important.
Happy holiday. But we'll be around through the weekend and Monday, even though it looks like few others plan much work until Wednesday.