The Democrat-Gazette today provides more details on something we mentioned yesterday -- the desire by a Little Rock School Board faction to remove Superintendent Roy Brooks and the interesting development that Dianne Curry, who owes her school board seat to unhappiness with Brooks, is apparently succumbing to heavy lobbying pressure to join his team.
The D-G, naturally, gets the jump on a newspaper ad placed in Brooks' support. It contains no names of backers, but the D-G names one, a mother from Terry school. I'd guess the putative "mothers group "is an outgrowth of a lobbying effort Board member Larry Berkley stirred up a few months back. He hates the Classroom Teachers Association and the ad, in addition to being pro-Brooks, attacks teachers (and insults them, too, as being opposed to children's education).
It's too bad the D-G, which had contact with the source, didn't get more information about other players in the movement and money sources. If the group is directly advocating a School Board vote in Brooks' behalf (and they certainly seem to be), I'd argue that they're subject to reporting requirements of the Arkansas ethics law. The niceties of the law don't seem to inspire the D-G much, however, unless the failures to observe them occur over at the Advertising and Promotion Commission.
The faction that wants to oust Brooks has a lengthy list of particulars in which they say Brooks has entered financial arrangements and taken other actions that shouldn't have occurred in the district's behalf without public notice and a school board vote. They also note his insubordinate tone about the School Board and his hateful public comments about teachers. Those issues weren't addressed in the D-G article in any depth if they were mentioned at all. We mostly hear again from Brooks that he's all about the kids (subtext: all who oppose him are not.)
This is a pretty good illustration of how the anti-Brooks faction is likely to get outmaneuvered and come up a loser on the PR end of things. The daily newspaper will back Brooks every step of the way, particularly on the opinion pages. We noted weeks ago questions raised about a $350,000 contract he apparently entered without board approval. This mirrored his secret deal early on with Walter Hussman, the publisher of the daily nespaper, to fund merit pay experiments and also his secret deal to ship public money to the Little Rock Public Education Foundation without board approval. The Foundation has essentially become a lobbying tool for Hussman and other anti-union businessmen. If the head of LRCVB had done the same, we can safely assume it would lead the D-G the next morning, not be mostly ignored.
If they do move to remove Brooks, they need to make the case clearly and cogently -- in public. He should be given every opportunity to answer questions and let the public judge the sufficiency of those answers and the case against him. Even though such matters MAY be conducted in private under the law, this is one of those cases where they SHOULD be conducted in public.
I'll say again that the mothers who bought this ad do not speak for all parents in the LRSD. I will also say again that some of the finest teachers I know -- people who dedicate untold extra hours and money from their own pockets to their work -- believe Brooks has been an autocratic and ineffective leader and that progress in the district has occured in spite of his leadership not because of it.
Truly, it's hard for a parent to judge a superintendent, whose work is far removed from the schools the parents see every day. I think they're draftees in the bitter attack on the teachers' union and civil rights lawyer John Walker by Berkley, the Democrat-Gazette and sympathizers in corporate boardrooms.
I've about concluded Brooks is a disaster if he stays and a disaster if he goes. There will be no winners.
UPDATE: The anti-union crowd is ginning up support for Brooks in e-mail round-robins. (I wonder how many of them have ever had a conversation with Supt. Brooks?) One of those who's pitched in is the famous former U.S. attorney, Bud Cummins. His e-mail on the jump.
E-MAIL FROM BUD CUMMINS
LRSD Board Members,
I am contacting you to urge you not only to retain Mr. Brooks as school district superintendent, but also to act only in ways that maintain the credibility of the LRSD School Board. If by your actions you lose the board’s credibility, you will also lose your ability to effectively manage the district for the duration of your terms on the board.
Undoubtedly, you each serve with the intent of constantly improving the district’s ability to educate children, and do not serve other interests, such as outside lawyers or unions. However, the recent perception that certain board members attempted to game the system by somehow putting a “fast one” on other board members who were out of town puts the board’s credibility at risk. If a person of outside influence suggested that outrageous strategy, he or she should be forever closed out of future board activities. The originator of that idea does not possess integrity or credibility. Any of you associated with such a plan had it gone forward would have paid a horrible price in lost credibility.
In fact, had you gone forward with that plan, the entire board would have been permanently discredited. You could count on spending the balance of your terms bickering amongst yourselves and defending outside critics, who would have valid complaints in light of such a dishonorable process. Nobody would have taken this board seriously again. This would result in poisonous consequences for the district.
Please retain your credibility by dealing openly and honestly with any future issue before the board. Work cooperatively, so that the public maintains confidence in each of you.
And please retain Superintendent Brooks. He has presided over perhaps the most successful era in the district’s modern history. Removing him now would create an unnecessary confidence crisis for the district. The public is watching this issue more closely every day to see that you make a good decision for all Little Rock school children, and not for other interests. They are watching for signs of integrity in the process. Please act accordingly.