The Little Rock Board is at it:
1) LAWSUITS: It approved a motion to attempt to settle all pending employment cases against the district as well as the suit over the alleged discrimination against a student at Central High. In the end, it granted discretion to the district's legal counsel, Chris Heller, to attempt to speed settlement of the pending cases -- some by federal mediation; the state cases by other means. Lots of confusion in stating the proposition, but in the end there was little disagreement. The vote was 6-0, with Melanie Fox abstaining as a no. And this did NOT cover John Walker's proposal to "settle" the deseg case, won by the school district, but on appeal. Good news that.
2) BUDGET: Mark Milhollen, the district financial officer, gets a grilling over the budget. Katherine Mitchell is critical. She thinks he's fallen short. He doesn't. Milhollen is combative. But not as combative as Larry Berkley in defending Milhollen. Why won't someone ask why Milhollen, or whoever, couldn't get an audit completed in a year, as the state requires.
3) PROCUREMENT AUDIT: Led by Charles Armstrong, the Board is being asked to hire a new auditing firm housed at John Walker's law firm to do an audit of district procurement processes. Armstrong said he'd sought other proposals, but found only one firm suitable and available to do the work. Michael Daugherty backed the proposal. Objections came immediately from Larry Berkley and Melanie Fox on action on the item. They're right. The issue of an audit may have been discussed in brief previously. And it's certainly been in the newspaper, on account of the John Walker-connected person chosen to do the audit. But if you're going to hire someone to do any business for the district, you should put out a public request for proposals. Berkley's right. There's an appearance that "everything is being rushed through, so one source can have an opportunity other people don't have."
Board member Baker Kurrus is also right. The proper course is first to decide if a sole source need be sought or whether bids should be taken. This deal smells.
Surprise. The motion failed on a 3-3 tie, with Diane Currry not voting. That's a good sign. Curry could be the swing vote on key issues; an honest broker. This issue needs one, as do many others. If the district needs an auditor -- and it might -- the board needs to select one in a fully transparent, accountable and dependable fashion.
Whatever the outcome, the effort to push this hire through is another bad sign of how the new School Board majority intends to plan and decide courses of action in advance of meetings and present the issues as done deals, without notice or real debate. Board meetings become irrelevant when this happens. Sad. It's no excuse to say that's how everybody else does it, though it is also often true.
4) STATE AUDIT PROBLEM: Lame excuse from Milhollen on his failure to file a state financial audit on time. Though he promises to get it done. Oh, and he admits the board was never told until the last minute that the district was showing its rear on this issue. He said he'd deliver an audit Friday, in time to meet the new deadline. Part of the problem is that, as the superintendent's criticis have noted, federal overseeers aren't happy with how the district has handled Title I money. Another sign that Brooks' management acumen has been overblown.
5) INTERIM SUPERINTDENT: The Board majority is ready to move on this issue, which makes sense, since Brooks must leave within 60 days. Finally, after some palaver, Board member Michael Daugherty seemed ready to recommend a specific person as interim superintendent. Who is it?
But, surprise. Rather than rush through a hand-picked candidate, the board decided to take expressions of interest through noon July 11. And they'll consider apps from people who'd also like to be permanent super.
In general, not as bad as I feared.