by Max Brantley
The Little Rock School Board quickly and quietly moved into executive session to discuss Superintendent Roy Brooks' possible termination minutes after the start of the 5:30 p.m. meeting.
Beforehand, Brooks (shown in photo with Board member Baker Kurrus) delivered a two-page letter to Board president Katherine Mitchell and distributed copies. It was clearly an effort to make up with Mitchell. He said he regretted his "ineffective" communication with Mitchell in the past. He said, "We're at a crossroads where we can either choose to work together to resolve our problems and go forward with the education mission of our district or we can begin a process of hearings and contention that threaten to destroy rather than enhance administrative stability and continuity within the school district."
He made four specific proposals: 1) a moratorium on administrative personnel changes for three months (meaning his suspension or removal); 2) the board would work with him to conduct a series of "listening tours" throughout the district within six months; 3) establish a 14-member advisory council (two for each board member) to meet monthly with Brooks to voice concerns, and 4) the board and Brooks would take part in a board training session to be conducted by a person trained in aiding such emotionally divisive situations.
"I extend these proposals as an olive branch to you in the hope that you and I will be able to work togehter with the board to begin a constructive process of healing so that our district may begin the essential work of learning how to operate in an environment that allows fair and equitable decisions without federal court approval, and making our district the highest achieving urban school district in America," the letter concluded.
These are meaningful proposals, but their arrival at the moment of a vote by a board predisposed to oust Brooks has to be a factor in weighing his sincerity. Though it's conciliatory, it seems to promise a legal action. Does he mean to leave the suggestion that he'll sue regardless of whether he's fired for cause or the board exercises its right to unilateral termination with a buyout of his $200,000-a-year contract, which has a bit more than two years to run?
Mitchell has undoubtedly been Brooks' strongest critic on the board. But she is by no means his only critic, on the board or in the community. I appreciate how the unbending Brooks had to bend to compose what he delivered tonight, but there are many others with an interest in whether his working relationship will change with them. There are parents and teachers in my neighborhood and many others who aren't happy with his management style. I've made well-known my unhappiness at his private catering to people with political agendas in the school. At a miniimum, he owes olive branches to us as well. Will he promise never again to reach agreements in private on matters that should be board policy decisions? I didn't hear that tonight. If there is a reconciliation process, he has many more people to work with than Katherine Mitchell. His letter -- significantly -- addressed only her.