by Max Brantley
I hear that a hearing officer from out of state has been chosen to preside over the Little Rock School Board hearing on whether Superintendent Roy Brooks has been hired. Who is he? Will Brooks choose to hold the hearing in public? Brooks' lawyer Jess Askew said he could not talk on the matter "on the record." I declined to have an off-the-record conversation with him. If the hearing officer is from out of state, he or she must come from a list provided by Askew's law firm.
For now, the hearing is still set for May 30. A school board meeting is scheduled Thursday. It would be an auspicious time to consider a proposal to buy out the superintendent and short circuit the certain-to-be-ugly firing hearing and the political storm that will follow. An intermediate idea would be to put Brooks on double secret probation with the understanding he was working out the two years remaining on his contract. I'd guess that would be a non-starter with the four members of the Board who have found Brooks' leadership wanting. A buyout would be followed by an angry storm of protest from Brooks' defenders and a torrent of editorial abuse from the Democrat-Gazette, which owns the superintendent, but it would be all but impossible to challenge in court. The bleeding would stop.
What of the rumored private talks working toward some sort of settlement? The rumors continue, but all I hear is of the second-hand variety.
Meanwhile, a letter arrived in my office today in a plain white wrapper. It's a copy of a letter Roy Brooks mailed to School Board members May 10. Those who've seen the superintendent speak in public will be skeptical that he wrote such a flowery epistle. The message is familiar enough, however. Children will be the victims if he is fired. Brooks has never understood the insult in this message, which he has uttered tirelessly and tiresomely. You CAN support children and believe Little Rock would be better served by a different school superintent. Or not believe it. Brooks doesn't have a monopoly on rectitude. He's right about this: All of us would "welcome an end to the distraction" that his superintendency has become.