by Max Brantley
The state Board of Education today approved an application for a charter school targeting black males. The Little Rock School District was finally permitted, after some board objections, to speak on the issue. Its attorney reminded the board of its obligations not to contribute to segregation in Pulaski County schools.
Approval of the charter for the Little Rock Urban Collegiate Public School for Young Men was unanimous. But a key condition was added to the approval. Not approved unanimously, but approved, was Board member Dr. Ben Mays' amendment to require that 80 percent of the students be lower income -- as defined by eligibility for free and reduced price lunches.
Questions were raised about how the school would provide transportation for low-income students. The school hopes to serve almost 700 in grades K-8.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued his advice to the board on questions raised by the Little Rock School District. Though obligations are changing under the law because the district has been declared desegregated in the eyes of the court, he notes the Board has a duty to analyze charter applications carefully because state statutes prohibit approval of charter schools found to "negatively affect" desegregation efforts.
UPDATE: More from Leslie Newell Peacock
LRUCP expects to have a student body that is 85 percent minority, according to its charter. Deputy Attorney General Scott Richardson noted that such a population could have a beneficial effect on desegregation efforts, apparently by absorbing African American students from the Little Rock district, which is majority black
Board member Ben Mays, after hearing from Deputy Attorney General Scott Richardson that a federal court ruling a year from now would alter the “legal landscape,” suggested that perhaps the board should wait on the LRUCP charter. Commissioner Tom Kimbrell asked, “If this came to us a year from now … would it take the desegregation quandary out of the mix?” Richardson said it would.
Mays and board members Toyce Newton and Brenda Gullett raised questions about the merits of LRUCP's application.
The application was made by Jackie Jackson, who described herself to the board as someone with a background in business administration. Hers is the only name that appears on the application and the school’s articles of incorporation, a point that caught Mays’ attention. Gullett and Newton remarked that they found the information on educational leadership in the application lacking.
The application says the school will teach Arabic and Chinese and cites the website of the People’s Republic of China in making its argument for offering Chinese. (Apparently these languages will be taught by computer, using Rosetta Stone software.) It will also offer etiquette instruction.
Jackson said her research – interviews in the 72204 and 72209 zip code that found interest among 295 people (281 of them black) -- proved the need for the school. The school would be located in a leased building at 4601 S. University.
Board member Newton told Jackson she had concerns about how children would get to the school. The transportation question seemed to rile Jackson, who replied that she had discussed the issue with parents and was told that “these boys are in such dire need they’ll take them anywhere.” She said later that the school would find money in its budget to buy passes on CATA buses, which she described as safer – without “incidents” – than school buses anyway.
Jackson said she would head up a business board and that there would be educational boards as well. She said she was consulting with Arkansas Baptist College president Dr. Fitz Hill, Catholic High School principal Steve Straessle and Dr. Pat Hoy of the New York University writing program on the makeup of those boards.
Clay Fendley, representing the Little Rock School District, addressed the board after chair Naccaman Williams, who initially said the LRSD would not be heard from, was persuaded by member Sam Ledbetter to let him speak. Fendley noted that the board should act to insure that it doesn’t again approve a charter that doesn’t live up to its application, citing Academics Plus in Maumelle. It had vowed to seek out a diverse student body, but it is 84 percent white.
Gullett made a motion to approve LRUCP’s charter for only one year and to review it after the end of that year to see if it was addressing the concerns it said it would address. She withdrew it after Department of Education attorney Jeremy Lasiter told her charters had to be approved for five years. He said the board could review the charter's progress during that time. That prompted Gullett to describe the board’s system of reviewing charters as “inadequate”; board member Jim Cooper agreed, saying “I’m all for better reviews of our charters.”