by Max Brantley
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel today issued his demands to Pulaski County public school districts to end state desegregation payments to the districts. He says the state will continue desegregation payments in Pulaski County for seven years -- currently about $68 million a year -- at the current level the first year and then tapering off payments by about $4 million a year for the final six years.
The Little Rock School District had offered to take an eight-year phaseout of support, but its offered phaseout would have only dropped to 90 percent of the beginning amount. As a practical matter, this case can't be closed out until all three school districts have been declared desegregated in federal court. Only Little Rock has gained that designation, with North Little Rock and Pulaski County pending. John Walker, who represents black students in Little Rock, also will have a role in settlement talks.
McDaniel demands that the state's ongoing support of segregative charter schools in Pulaski County not be discussed in resolving remaining issues. McDaniel demands also that recent state law on desegregation payments be accepted as constitutional. He further demands that Little Rock present a plan for supporting itself financially once state support is withdrawn. He says his demands are very generous.
(PS -- Of course McDaniel depicted the state's proposal as an "offer," not a demand. And, of course, he conversely described offers from the districts as "demands." I thought I'd play with his loaded words a little bit to demonstrate the demagoguery of such tactics. It's familiar among union haters. Generous bosses always offer. Underpaid, powerless working stiffs always demand.)
The Little Rock School District's attorney, Chris Heller, said the following in a note that went with the proposal to School Board members:
This seems to be a significant effort on the part of the state to resolve the outstanding funding issues. We should study it carefully to determine the impact on our students so that we can make an informed recommendation to the Board. I would like to start that work right away so that we will know where we stand before we get to Judge Miller's court in September.
McDaniel and the schools districts are negotiating to conclude a lawsuit that arose from decades of overt discriminatory practices by McDaniel's client, the state. The state has not demonstrated a great deal more good faith toward the local districts in recent years, except under force ofcourt order. The end of state support of magnet schools -- which was one the key requirements to satisfy the federal court to end the case years ago -- likely means the end of magnet schools.
End of magnet school support also would contrast to the state's unwillingness to discourage functional equivalents in Pulaski County -- the free-standing miniature school districts known as charter schools. They are bound by no racial considerations and also enjoy the significant luxury of being able to boot children who don't meet school rules.
If this was only about money, it probably could be easily settled. The state has significantly increased its offer in hopes of bringing the lawsuit to a close. But magnet schools and majority-minority transfers were bedrock remedies imposed on the state forever on account of the ill effects of state-supported segregation in schools and housing. They did not have an ending time. And the state has not met the law's requirements in approving charter schools. It has not considered impact on integration and it has not considered whether charter schools serve needs unmet by the district. Some clearly have drawn disproportionately from pools of students already meeting education goals in conventional public schools. And these same schools have drawn disproportionately from racial and economic groups that are in the minority in the school district, thus making the district poorer and more segregated. The district might, however, conclude that a known quantity of money versus uncertain litigation could encourage a negotiated change to earlier agreements with the state. It is possible, too, McDaniel said, that if the state heard legitimate concerns on these issues they could still be addressed in continuing negotiations.
McDaniel said any settlement likely would include provisions for attorney fees, but there are no specifics to discuss on that yet. He said the state had been talking with John Walker about his concerns, chiefly related to addressing the continuing achievement gap between white and black students. McDaniel said he was hopeful that Walker would join with other parties, but said it was also possible that the parties would seek court approval without approval from all parties.
Ongoing debate in the Pulaski County School District over allowing Jacksonville to form its own district is a potential impediment to a universally approved settlement. In federal monitor's reports, the county district has fallen farthest short of meeting desegregation standards.
MCDANIEL NEWS RELEASE THAT ACCOMPANIED LETTER
LITTLE ROCK– Today, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel sent a letter extending an offer to the Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County Special School Districts in an effort to settle the long running desegregation case in Pulaski County.
This offer, if accepted, will set a clear ending date to the supplemental payments made by the state to the Pulaski County School Districts, which exceed $60,000,000 annually. It will also include a plan for fiscal oversight of the school districts leading up to and after the ending date.
“This is a good offer that will give the districts financial stability and allow them to move beyond this litigation so that they may focus on educating students and preparing the next generation of doctors, teachers and scientists,” McDaniel said. “Moreover, the State will almost certainly save millions of dollars by resolving this matter now, as opposed to waiting until the matter is disposed of by both the trial and appellate courts.”
The offer sets forth a seven-year plan to phase out the payments. Specifically, the State agrees to maintain funding at the current 2008-2009 level for the first year of the seven-year plan. During years two, three and four the payments will be reduced by $4,000,000 a year. The remaining three years will see funding reduce by $4,250,000 a year. The letter also outlines expectations that the districts will provide fiscal planning to support their use of the funding under the plan.