by Max Brantley
We don't agree with Debbie Pelley on much. But the religious conservative/small school champion from Northeast Arkansas circulates a memo today that raises some interesting questions. I'll print it on the jump. She says a legislative oversight committee led by Sen. Jim Argue and Rep. Joyce Elliott received an advance copy of the latest report of the state's education consultants before last week's meeting with a warning that the document should not be distributed to others. The meeting didn't draw press coverage that Pelley saw. She says that Argue said during the meeting that he wanted to draft legislation moving the minimum school district size up to 800.
A couple of things: Shame on anyone for keeping a public document secret. Shame on the lack of press coverage. But bravo to Argue if he wants to move ahead with more consolidation even though no major candidate for state office has the guts to say that we haven't gone far enough. So far -- and admirably, thanks to the governor's fortitude and his board of education -- the state has stuck with higher standards on curriculum. The only way to deliver it efficiently and thoroughly is through somewhat larger high school. Not big high schools, mind you. A district with 800 students would have a high school of only 240 or so students, barely enough to field a competitive football team (if you want to talk about something really important.) Anyway, Sen. Argue and Rep. Elliott, if you happen to check in tonight, I wonder what you might offer by way of response.
UPDATE: Senator Argue sends along this note:
Of course, the entire report was released to everyone one week later, after the committee members had had a chance to review it, and when Picus/Odden were present to review their work, approve or reject suggested amendments to their report, and get it it final form for committee approval. It was a "working paper" before the committee meeting. We were not striving for secrecy, but rather, trying to maintain a structured committee process and avoid confusion.
Max, I spent three full days in open education committee meetings last week, answered countless questions from the media, constituents, and colleagues; it's strange to be accused of perpetrating a secrecy conspiracy by Pelley, especially since the report has now been widely distributed. But then, I'm a favorite target.
The consolidation comment was a part of an enchange between the director of the administrator's association and me. I used it to make the point, as they were testifying for more state funding for tiny districts, that further consolidation, in many cases, is an alternative to extraordinarily inefficient per student spending levels. We must fund truly isolated districts, even when inefficient, but it ought to be based on geographical isolation, not simply school district size.
Be glad to fill in any other blanks.
FROM DEBBIE PELLEY
Last week Senator Jim Argue and Representative Joyce Elliott did something I have never known legislators to do. Argue and Elliott asked the recipients of a memo in bold underlined print "not to reproduce or distribute this document" Other legislators have said they have never seen a note like this on legislative documents before either.
This "not to reproduce or distribute" statement was on a memorandum called a legislative alert. It was sent out to the Joint Adequacy Study Oversight announcing their meeting to be held August 24th (last Thursday) to discuss the report by the Adequacy Experts Odden and Picus. The document not to be reproduced or distributed was the 91 page report by Odden and Picus
Who gave these legislators the right to wrap in secrecy legislative information produced with taxpayers' money? What information do they not want the people to see and why?
My greater concern is the power and influence Argue and Elliott may have had on the media. This concern originates with the fact that to my knowledge no one in the media reported on this important all day meeting (from 9:00 to about 5:00) that involves $335 million more dollars the Adequacy experts are recommending. I searched the major papers, AP, Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Stephens media and Google and found no report whatsoever on this meeting.
I attended the meeting and heard several interesting things that would have made a great story. For one thing Senator Argue had this to say: "Mr. Hudson, I am going to ask the staff to go ahead and draw up a bill in my name to raise the minimum district size to 800." During an intense court battle with the Paron school closing being reported in papers across the state along with other rural school battles, just why would that statement by Argue not be significant enough to be included in a newspaper story? And why isn't that statement a significant story when Argue is opposing his party leaders. Beebe and Halter have both recently said they don't think we need any more consolidation.
Stay tuned and I will give the details in my next email surrounding Senator Argue's statement along with a few other details that would have made a very interesting news story.
By the way, I would welcome the media's explanation if I am jumping to some wrong conclusions as to why they didn't cover the story. If I find I have misunderstood something, I will gladly send out another email correcting this one.
Following is the way this memorandum read. This is not an official copy, but I will fax the authentic copy to anyone that wants it with the official seal on it.
The meeting is on video and above quotes are transcribed from the video.
State of Arkansas
TO The Members of the Joint Adequacy Study Oversight: Subcommittee and Interested Membersof the House and Senate Interim Committees on Education
FROM Mark Hudson
SUBJECT: Final Draft of the Arkansas Recalibration Report
DATE; August 17, 2006
Enclosed for your review is a copy of the final draft of the Arkansas Recalibration Report. The report will be discussed at the August 24th meeting of the Joint Adequacy Study Oversight subcommittee.
Senator Argue and Representative Elliott ask that you not reproduce or distribute this document.
I hope you will find this information beneficial. Please call me at 501-537-9173 if you have any questions or need additional information.