by Max Brantley
Last week, Chris Heller, the attorney for the Little Rock School District, made a filing in federal court related to the state's ongoing push to end Pulaski County desegregation litigation. He noted shortcomings in the Pulaski District's move toward desegregated status.
Heller also noted the state's failure over a period of many years to consider the impact on resegregation of the disrict through the state's approval of open enrollment charter schools in Little Rock. The charters duplicate administration and thus create new, inefficient school districts. They have often been more segregated than regular public schools. Most significantly, they function like quasi-private schools. They can boot students that don't meet their rules and send them back to regular public schools that don't have the same options of dealing with difficult students.
The development has prompted disagreement among School Board members. Baker Kurrus, who's been an outspoken opponent of the creation of charter schools in Little Rock when they offered nothing not already available in the district, nonetheless has argued that it's time to move on and not attempt to litigate the charter school issue.
Board members Micheal Daugherty and Katherine Mitchell have taken different views. See their remarks in e-mail exchanges on the jump.
UPDATE: With comment from Melanie Fox.
BOARD MEMBER DAUGHERTY
Please convey my sincere thanks and appreciation to Chris and Clay on this well written submission to the Court.
BOARD MEMBER KURRUS
I thought the scope of the submission exceeded the Court's request, and opens up some issues that the board has not voted to litigate. We have attained unitary status, and I do not think we should charge into issues that invite further costly litigation. The board, rather than counsel to the board or the administration, needs to decide if it wants to spend the thousands of dollars to litigate the issues relating to charter schools. We have spent the better part of three decades in court. We are now unitary. I think we need to urgently begin to deal with the issues that are resulting in unacceptable levels of achievement by the students in our district. We need to do this, even if some students elect out of our district through magnet programs, m to m transfers, or charters.
I have worked to limit charters in the political arena, but every child enrolled in a charter is there because the parents or guardians of the child decided that the charter alternative was better than the LRSD offerings. It is time we started dealing with the issues which are causing parents to go elsewhere.
We need to stop doing business as usual and start taking dramatic steps to change the fate of our district. More litigation will not be the answer.
BOARD MEMBER DAUGHERTY
I hesitated responding to this because we are all aware of Mr. Kurrus’ position regarding charter schools. However, I felt it necessary because his response appears to be a direct response to something I had written earlier.
First, let me state to my fellow board members that I continue to stand by my original statements regarding the court submission. It is a well written and thoroughly researched document. It points out many things we have discussed in open session and moves to prove the points discussed. It mirrors the sentiment I believe is supported by the majority of the board based on their comments and actions. And I believe the submission speaks directly to the heart of the problem that for all intent and purposes, these charters violate the 1989 settlement agreement that each party signed in good faith.
If we were to explore the latter of these, whether or not these charters are a violation and if this is correct, it should be evident that regardless of who benefits from attending these schools they are a violation of an agreement attested to and submitted to the federal court in a binding agreement that has been the basis of our release from the court. It would also indicate the submission to the court negates the charters’ existence and makes them illegal. I would hope any practicing attorney would be concerned with the legality of a thing. Does it matter if an individual creates a business or other entity that violates the law? Should it be allowed to exist as long as there are those who benefit from it? I’m sure there are a lot of people who’d like to hear the answer to that.
Consequently, I have looked at where we are and where I’d like for us to be today as a board and I am somewhat disappointed. When I took my Oath of Office it was to the Little Rock School District. I have dedicated my time and my action to doing what I believe is in the best interest of the District and hope those who serve with me do the same. I also believe the actions of our attorneys are in the best interest of the District and will support them one hundred percent.
BOARD MEMBER KATHERINE MITCHELL
I have learned to respect the opinions of other people, even if I disagree with them. I strongly feel that each person should be given an opportunity to state that opinion.
When the law for the establishment of charter school was passed, I did not oppose their creation because of the language of the law. However, after sitting through many State Board of Education meetings and hearing the discussions on charter schools, listening to the presentation of the proposals, and witnessing the majority of the board voting to approve them, I have come to the conclusion that it does not matter what the charter proposes to do. The board will grant approval. The Wal-Mart Foundation awards a $250,000 start up fund to each of them and the same financial group does the budget and record keeping for each of them.
I agree with some of the statements Michael has made in his response and I also applaud the attorneys for submitting the responses as the court requested.
Charter schools do not have to abide by the same rules as public school. Public schools can not just "kick" students out when they exhibit behavior problems or have disabilities that must be addressed. The students are not leaving the public schools because they do not strive to meet their needs; such an implication or a statement is unfair to our employees who dilgilently seek ways to assist our students, regardless of their level of performance. There are many variables involved when it comes to student achievement that some of us may not have placed in the equation.
I agree with the statements the attorneys' made in relationship to the negative impact charter school have on our ability to desegregate the schools in this county and the unfairness of their discrimination caused by lack of transportation, etc. I did not view their response as the basis for a lawsuit. I do not recall the board's action to do so. However, it maybe an option later depending on how things progress.
BOARD MEMBER FOX
In running back and forth among the things that might be important, we forget to spend enough time on what really is important…student achievement. I’d like to see us focus on making LRSD so great that Charters will become obsolete. In my opinion, obstacles are conditions of success and we need to change the perspectives not the problems.