The Little Rock School Board voted 4-3 Thursday Wednesday to give notice to Superintendent Roy Brooks of cause to fire him. He'll be given a hearing to answer those charges. They'll be put in writing, but no list was released this evening.
Brooks offered no comment after the vote and left the building quickly. A capacity crowd filled the board room to overflowing. (Brian Chilson photo.)
Voting for the motion were President Katherine Mitchell, Dianne Curry, Charles Armstrong and Michael Daugherty. Voting agaiinst it were Larry Berkley, Baker Kurrus and Melanie Fox.
There was no discussion before the vote of an offer by Brooks preceding the executive session for a series of steps to improve board communication. (See earlier blog post.) He also apologized for "ineffective" communication previously with Board President Katherine Mitchell.
The board emerged from executive session at 6:55 p.m. and cheers erupted when Mitchell said no action had been taken. But the crowd was silenced and Mitchell moved, after handing the gavel to Charles Armstrong, to give notice to Brooks in writing of reason to fire him and give him time to respond. An impartial hearing officer will consider the case and issue a finding. The board would then vote whether or not to fire Brooks after that finding. Presumably, if the board voted to fire Brooks despite a finding in his favor by the hearing officer, he could sue. The board presumably could also decide NOT to fire him after the hearing.
Chris Heller, the board's attorney, said the hearing officer will issue a finding of fact but his conclusions are not binding. It can't be sooner than 30 days after Brooks receives the charges against him.
Asked after the meeting why to pursue firing rather than buying out Brooks' contract without a hearing, Mitchell said she thought if the board had cause it should proceed under that portion of his contract.
The action ensures a legal battle of several months, with much more unhappiness. But, as several Board members suggested, it might serve as a de facto evaluation process. The minority clearly believes there's no case to fire Brooks, but, with the exception of Berkley, they seemed willing to acknowledge Brooks had made mistakes. The question is, if he survives this process, will he be a changed and inclusive leader or the same autocraticboss who infuriated proven master teachers and curried favor with the city's elite while giving no such solicitous attention to poorer constituencies.
I expect you can look for a gigantic effort by the business community to beat Michael Daugherty, a Brooks critic, in the September school election. Brooks' critics believe the superintendent has participated in a search for potential opponents, but that's one of many unconfirmed rumors that has only heightened the emotion in this debate.
The sincerity of those who want a mediated solution can be judged in the days ahead by whether they and their allies -- the ad hoc mothers' group and the Democrat-Gazette and the Chamber of Commerce, to name three -- exhibit a consensus spirit. Will they continue to claim Roy Brooks is responsible for all good in the district and the people who fill classroom teacher slots responsible for all ill? Will they continue to whip the CTA and the federal court bogeyman? Will the alleged nonprofit that exists for school district support stop acting like a publicly subsidized lobby for Brooks and the ideological agenda of city power brokers (many of them fathers -- there are precious few mothers in any LR corporate boardroom -- of private school childfren)? We'll see.
Go to the jump for School Board member comments:
-- Reporting by Jennifer Barnett Reed
Before a vote on the motion, Board member Baker Kurrus expressed appreciation to Brooks and, this was a welcome note from the Brooks camp, to teachers. He noted improvements in the district -- enrollment, scores and community support. He complained about the series of special meetings held to reach the point of the vote. He proposed, rather than a show-cause proceeding before a hearing officer on why Brooks should be fired, a thorough annual evaluation.
Kurrus also said he'd seen the facts that allegedly constitute cause for Brooks' dismissal for the first time Thursday night. He said he didn't want to make a vote on the first day he saw that information. That's not fair, he said, as well as "contrary to common sense and good personnel management.".
Board member Melanie Fox said it was time for a board evaluation process and establishment of specific goals for the board. She said there'd been an unclear process for assessing Brooks' performance. She said she'd seen no evidence to warrant his termination. She called again for a mediator to work on building consensus in the district.
Board member Dianne Curry said everyone shared a primary interest in children, but the division on the board had caused pain for all, including children. She referred to calls, e-mails and letters she'd received, plus apparent FOI requests made by Brooks' supporters of her e-mail record at the state Education Department. She said there was more at stake than the employment of one person. "We have to stand for what the people in our areas put us into office for," she said. She said she'd never promised to fire Brooks, but she'd promised to be fair. She said there were differences in what was made available to children in schools in West Little Rock and those in Southwest Little Rock.
Board member Larry Berkley said the board had failed to give the superintendent goals for the year. He said no one would like to receive a list of reasons for termination without prior notice. "I'm upset this board has not created an opportunity for the public to have input in meeting form," he said. (My note: Yes, Larry, and that's how a lot of us felt when you and Brooks jammed merit pay down our throats without notice, much less a meeting or the legally required teacher vote.) Berkley disputed that he "hated" the Classroom Teachers Association (a phrase I used on this blog in an item circulated by the CTA), but his contempt for the CTA was nearly palpable in a discussion I had with him about his efforts to organize a parent group to lobby for Brooks. That group effort has turned largely on demonizing teachers. Berkley also said it was inappropriate for the CTA to support Brooks' termination.
Board member Michael Daugherty responded by reminding Berkley how the chief administrator of the school district was using school channels to encourage teachers to quit the union. He criticized those who equated Brooks' future with continued planning for a new school in West Little Rock, construction Daugherty has supported.
Brooks Mitchell did not offer additional comments.
The mood was tense. People on both sides of the issue interjected comments during the board's remarks and had to be hushed.