by Max Brantley
State Rep. Dan Greenberg got nowhere in asking for an attorney general's opinion about whether state law requires a restructuring of the Little Rock School Board at the September school election. (This is the hope of a number of people unhappy with the thinking of the current ruling School Board majority.)
The a.g. opinion says Greenberg's questions can't be answered by the office because of pending litigation -- an appeal in the long-running desegregation case in which the Little Rock School District has been declared unitary by a district judge.
It's complicated, but I'll try. Legislation passed by a former Maumelle legislator because of unhappiness with a Pulaski County School Board member (the correction here is that the Maumelle legislator is only responsible for a portion of the law) requires that any school district declared unitary for desegregation purposes has to elect board members by zones drawn according to the most recent census (the boards can choose 5- or 7- or 9-member zone plans or a plan with 5 zones and two at-large seats) . School board terms must be for five years instead of the current three.
The wrinkle of interest now is the change in length of terms. Proponents who'd like to use this law to upend the current Board majority acknowledge that the Board already has seven zone seats redrawn according to the most recent Census. That's in compliance with the law. But to transition to the statutory five-year terms would require the drawing of lots for new terms among the seven memers and perhaps a different slate of board seats on the ballot in November. Two seats are on the ballot now -- Michael Daugherty and Baker Kurrus, one on each side of the current board divide. The money will pour in from the chamber crowd to any and all opposed to the four-member majority, whoever reaches the ballot.
The law exempts districts where voter rights lawsuits have been filed, attorney John Walker contends. Little Rock is operating under a federal court order in a voter rights case, he says. So Walker argues that this fact moots any question about the applicability of the state law. State funding could be withheld if it's determined that the law DOES apply to Little Rock and the Board has not taken the steps outlined in the law. If the law does apply, time is just about up for the School Board to decide a course of action by at least 90 days before the September election.
A five-year School Board term is a bad idea for a number of reasons, seems to me. Those hoping for a revolution might be careful what they wish for.