The school bomb | Arkansas Blog

The school bomb

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That Little Rock school bombshell?

Here it is, though not supplied by any of the four-member Board majority, none of whom has responded to my telephone calls or e-mails.

Board president Katherine Mitchell has sent letters to nine top administrators informing them that, since they are in jobs answerable to the superintendent, they might not have jobs next school year. She warns them against contributing to the defense of Superintendent Roy Brooks, whom the Board majority is moving to fire.

I have been supplied this letter on condition that I not reveal the source. Obviously,  it comes from a source supportive of Brooks who doesn't support Mitchell's action, if for no other reason than Brooks' critics seem to be in hiding. Some of those targeted by Mitchell are direct hires of Brooks. I doubt, for example, that deputy superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh, who was brought to LR by Brooks, needed any warning that he could expect to be jobless in LR next year if Brooks is removed. But the warnings go deeper, to some long-time district employees. Presumably, they are people identified as sympathetic to Brooks or otherwise unacceptable to the current board majority.

The board majority has already demonstrated extreme clumsiness, at a minimum, in its effort to remove Brooks, between botched meetings, disregard for both openness  and requirements of the law on meeting notice and, as recently as Thursday's effort to immediately suspend him, disregard for the language of Brooks' contract, which required a hearing before suspension.

The majority, which has had sympathy from a cross-section of the community, risks blowing up that support by moving too fast, too vindictively and with an apparent desire to not just fire Brooks, but humiliate him and anyone who might support him.

My feelings are this: Much of what's happening is about power -- a mean and sometimes misleading  response in some cases by those who lost it and a vengeful and, now, disturbing misuse of it by those who've recently acquired it. Two wrongs do not a right make. And the board majority is currently in the lead in the wrong category.

The minority on the board has been given the gift of the high ground by this latest maneuver. It won't save Roy Brooks' job -- only a change in board members can do that -- but it will contribute to powerful political dynamics when the Chamber of Commerce and its allies make a run this September at unseating Michael Daugherty and restoring a pro-Brooks balance of power. More about that in the future.

Brooks is a poor communicator and poor politician. He deserves, at best, only a tiny bit of the credit his loudest defenders want to bestow on him for what is -- also at best -- only modest signs of improvement in the Little Rock School District. His deceitful lease of school policy, in private, to wealthy historic enemies of public education remains an unforgivable error on his part, along with his demonization of teachers and those who support them. His disdain for those who had no power when he arrived is now catching up with him. His failure to exhibit a sincere willingness to work with the board majority -- his statement of apology was only words not continuing deeds -- hasn't worked in his favor. But he doesn't deserve what he's getting now. Moreover, the district's image, parents, taxpayers and students don't deserve the fallout from this power-intoxicated dash to get even by the board majority.

The board majority is guilty of the same sort of secretive deliberations with forces with malign intent that I've faulted Brooks for. If they want Brooks gone, they should be man and woman enough to meet in public and vote to buy out his contract. This would stop the district's bleeding. The money is negligible; it's customary and it avoids expensive legal proceedings that could cost the district still more money in punitive damages. (So far, the board majority hasn't made a convincing case that Brooks should be fired for cause. I'd readily stipulate the majority's inablity to work with him is sufficient reason to replace him, at least legally.) Once Brooks is sent on his way, an interim superintendent could choose an administrative team in the daylight, with board approval, not by four-member board fiat. The pre-emptive and premature administrative coup uncovered today does not bode well for district management. It will turn off and drive away people the district can ill afford to lose.

The letter to administrators was delivered Friday night by courier, as late as 11 p.m., according to my sources. Other School Board members received a letter today notifying them that Mitchell had taken this unilateral action, though they did not receive a copy of the letter itself. It is perhaps legal, in that no one has been terminated. But the implicit threat is clear enough. It's wrong. The following people, my source says, received the letter:

Hugh Hattabaugh
Junious Babbs (longtime LRSD employee, worked in various administrations)
Dr. Sadie Mitchell (longtime LRSD employee, worked under several superintendents)
Mark Millhollen
Joe Mitiga
David Hartz
Dennis Glasgow
Olivine Roberts
Linda Watson

PS -- Several comments conjecture that Mitchell's letter was merely a careful adherence to taking required steps necessary to notify of possible non-renewal in advance of a required May 1 notice date. This possibility had occurred to me at the beginning, but I didn't raise because I don't know, still, if it is true. I will say this, however. If it IS true, it's yet another matter that should have been placed on the agenda, discussed in public and voted in public. This secretive, midnigtht process stinks. It does not build trust.

Text of the Mitchell letter is on the jump.



Letter reads as follows:

    “This letter is to inform you that because the LRSD Board voted to proceed with action to suspend the current superintendent, your administrative position with the LRSD, reporting directly to that superintendent, may change during the next contract year should a new superintendent by selected.  Persons at your level of employment serve at the pleasure of the superintendent.  We are desirous of providing the new superintendent, should one be forthcoming, with the same options afforded Dr. Brooks and al other superintendents hired by the district.

    “To insure the stability of the district during this time, we ask that you refrain from taking any action that would undermine the charges against Dr. Brooks or otherwise harm the LRSD.

    “If you disagree with this action, you may request a hearing before the board to explain your position.  Your request should be made in writing within 30 days and be sent to me as Board President by certified mail.”

It is signed “Sincerely, Dr. Katherine Mitchell, Board President.”  It was printed on LRSD letterhead.  
 

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