by Max Brantley
Not to worry. There's plenty cooking at the Little Rock School District, which has a special school board meeting this evening.
A new teacher contract is to be approved, for one thing. This may be accompanied by a board discussion on whether the district should pick up the cost of merit pay experiments financed by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman. (UPDATE: Not tonight, Board president Katherine Mitchell says.) I don't think the School Board is inclined to extend the experiment, even if Hussman offers to put the money up himself for one more year. For one thing, results were mixed . For another, former Superintendent Roy Brooks never got around to forming a study committee that was supposed to evaluate the program. The Democrat-Gazette will blame the teachers union and Gang of Four, of course, if this comes to pass. But there was a time when even one of the Three Honkies was expressing reluctance about continuation of the merit pay experiments without more meaningful evaluation.
And, of course, there's the school election.
Supporters of Zone 2 board member Micheal Daugherty are buzzing about a letter that opponent Michael Nellums, a Pulaski County School District principal, sent to Pulaski County colleagues seeking donations. It said, in part:
It is important as administrators in the Pulaski County area that you understand the importance of this race professionally as well. It appears that the state has all but forced the hand of the Pulaski County Special School District to deal with the eventual loss of the Jacksonville area schools. That in itself is significant because the possibility of losing 6,500 students or more will have a tremendous impact on the sustainability and potential survival of the PCSSD.
Further, if the unimaginable were to happen, many schools south of the river could well be a part of the Little Rock public school system if the court agreed that they fall within the natural boundaries of the city of Little Rock.
In that case, it would be important that you knew a familiar face.
There's still more buzz at the expected news that Daugherty opponent Anna Swaim's contribution list reads like a who's who of the Little Rock chamber of commerce -- well-to-do white men who don't live in Zone 2 and many of whom send kids to private schools. She's going to spend $15,000 or more. She told me she made no commitments in return for that support. She's also said she supporrts collective bargaining with the teachers union and opposes the test-score-linked merit pay experiments that Hussman has pushed. But her association with the chamber crowd won't help her with the well-documented suspicion among black people that exists in her predominantly black zone.
Swaim's $16,724 in contributions as of Tuesday included $1,000 from Vratsinas Construction, Haskell Dickinson of McGeorge Construction and Gene Pfeifer. $500 contributors were Robert East, Casey Jones of Janet Jones Co., Randy Wilbourn of Alltel, Ronald Cameron of Mountaire Corp. in North Little Rock, Delta Trust, Michael Coulson of Coulson Oil, Colliers Dickson Flake Partners, Gregory Flesher of Moore Stephens Frost, Rick Watkins of The Watkins Co.
Smaller contributions came from Robert Shoptaw of Arkanas Blue Cross, former school board member John Riggs, developers Jimmy Moses and Rett Tucker, Entergy Arkanas chief Hugh McDonald, nursing home lobbyist Randy Wyatt, Entergy attorney Steven Strickland, Entergy's Michael Maulden, banker French Hill, AT&T Arkansas chief Edward Drilling, hotel investors Wally and Blair Allen, banker Bob Althoff, Baldwin & Shell Construction, William Clark II of CDI Contractors, etc.
Daugherty has raised about $11,000 so far, with $4,000 of it from the Classroom Teachers Association, state or local teachers union officials and including $1,500 from Brownie Ledbetter, mother of the CTA's executive director, Grainger Ledbetter. A number of black business people contributed as well, including several who live in the zone.
Nellums has raised about $2,500, including $250 from former city director Jesse Mason, who lives in Chenal Valley; $1,000 from an association of Pulaski school administrators, and $150 from state Rep. Will Bond of Jacksonville.