by Max Brantley
The latest fusillade in the backlash against the new majority on the Little Rock School Board has been reporting on money Board president Katherine Mitchell received for teaching summer courses to train people seeking non-traditional licensure as teachers. Her payment came in the form of checks from the Little Rock School District.
Here you can read the proposal -- signed in March 2005 for the money from which Mitchell was paid $4,800 in the summer of 2005. I think it gives a fuller explanation of this portion of the program than has been reported so far. It is a joint application for state money by several educational institutions, including Philander Smith College, Dr. Mitchell's employer. It was signed by Roy Brooks, superintendent of the Little Rock School District. The course was taught by some 20 people on the Philander Smith Campus. The Little Rock School District was the administrative agency, or custodian, for the state Education Department grant -- and thus issued the checks -- but the program was for anyone interested in alternative licensure. It was not tailored strictly by or for the Little Rock School District. Instructors were supplied by the participating institutions and from ranks of people qualified to teach the course.
Reading this document, I think it's difficult to argue Mitchell was working for the Little Rock School District in this relationship. She didn't contract with the district. A group of agencies, including her employer, contracted with the state to do work in return for payment funneled through the district.
This agreement, however, does not cover the alternative licensure program the district reportedly itself operated in 2004 and through which Mitchell was paid $1,600 in 2004. It also does not address a related question, the Democrat-Gazette's report that she failed to disclose the School District as a source of income of more than $1,000 on the annual financial statement required of public officials that she filed in 2006 for 2005. More on that when I have it.
Mitchell will likely address this topic in a talk at noon Wednesday in a talk sponsored by the Political Animals at the Darragh Center Auditorium at the downtown library. the Clinton School.
PS -- It's easy, if unproductive to play this game of gotcha. The school superintendent is supposed to file a statement of financial interest every year. County files show Roy Brooks filed one in 2004 and 2005, but not 2006. Call the militia.
PPS -- Chip Welch responded to the lawsuit claiming an illegal exaction in the buyout of Brooks' contract. The file is too big for me to upload. But the answer boils down to a simple question based on the lawsuit's allegation that a buyout is not among the provisions included in the law concerning what must be in a superintendent's contract. Says the brief: "Can a school board in Arkansas enter into a contract with a school superintendent that includes any term other than 'duration of employment, specific duties and annual salary?' The plain language of the controlling statute and a century of case law demonstrate that the answer is unequivocally yes. Accordingly, plaintiffs' action is meritless and should be dismissed with prejudice."