by Max Brantley
The Little Rock School District has announced a special school board meeting at 5 p.m. tonight. The notice said Board president Katherine Mitchell had not announced topics for discussion.
Does this mean four votes have coalesced to fire Superintendent Roy Brooks (in photo)? (The answer appears to be yes. People who helped elect Dianne Curry have lobbied her hard this week to overcome her earlier refusal to join the majority to oust Brooks). Was the short notice intended to depress the turnout of people with a high interest in this topic? (Probably, but it was wishful thinking.) Can people on both sides conduct themselves maturely? (A long shot, but there will be ample police on hand.) Will the majority present a public and thoughtful case if this action does take place? (I'm pessimistic.)
Few on either side have distinguished themselves in this long-simmering controversy. (A few have. Board members Baker Kurrus and Melanie Fox have sought a middle ground.) Brooks has done much of which I've disapproved but I don't think there's a case for firing. At the same time, I think Brook's supporters have focused too much on their own petty grievances -- against the Classroom Teachers Association and John Walker -- and inflamed the situation as badly as the supporters of the black majority intent on Brook's departure. But all of that is so much spilt milk.
The outcome seems certain. Rather than let Brooks work out the two years he has remaining -- perhaps even win over some of his enemies -- he will be bought out prematurely, on a racially split vote. The district will be out $500,000 or more. A temporary superintendent will be installed. It might be Morris Holmes, a popular figure as Central High principal, but long retired from a job that should send shivers through district patrons -- head of the New Orleans school district. It did not improve on his watch and deserves its reputation as one of the worst in the country.
Some people who've stuck by the district in hard times will abandon it, particularly if the new leadership follows a pattern set in other urban areas of featherbedding and acceptance of low standards. The loss of white families will harm the district. Loss of students will cost money. Loss of supporters will doom millage elections. Loss of integrated schools with proven performance records will influence housing patterns and encourage more flight. This is the nightmare scenario painted by those who'd like to stick with Brooks. I am sad to say, much as I agree that Brooks has been a polarizing and error-prone leader, that I think the prediction of doom may be correct.
Just recently, the district landed a promising alternate site for a new West Little Rock school. It could bring 800 new students into the district -- more money and a broadened base in affluent western Little Rock. One immediate concern is whether the muscle-flexing board majority will retreat from the board's promise to build this school. But that's a small concern at this minute.
We'll be on hand.
Happy 50th anniversary of the Little Rock crisis, still in progress.
UPDATE: I don't know if it will happen, but a board member could object to a vote tonight under a board policy that prevents a vote on a subject not in the call of a meeting without board approval.