Kurrus on charter school litigation | Arkansas Blog

Kurrus on charter school litigation

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Little Rock School Board member Baker Kurrus, back from vacation, has circulated notes to other board members commenting further on the 4-3 Board vote several months ago to allow the district's attorney to argue in federal court that the state's ready approval of charter schools in Pulaski County contributes to segregation and violates the state's agreement in settling the decades-old desegregation lawsuit.

As I've written before, Kurrus has been critical of several aspects of charter schools created in Little Rock and the state process that led to them. He is a defender of the School District in some, though by no means all, respects. He takes offense at the new campaign by charter school advocates to declare the entire school district a waste. But he's also a fierce opponent of continuing legal action. He recognizes the district has large problems, including failing schools and underperforming employees. He's, in short, as close to an honest broker in this controversy as exists. It's a shame, if understandable, that he's retiring from the School Board in September.

On the jump, you'll find two memos Kurrus wrote recently in response to past correspondence from the district's attorney, Chris Heller. They'll be a big hit with the Billionaires Club and their paid lobbyist Luke Gordy, who want to bust the Little Rock School District up into dozens of charter schools.

I can't quarrel much with Kurrus' larger themes. But I do think (and I think Kurrus agrees, based on our many conversations) that there's much to be said about a rigorous state effort in reviewing and approving charter applications and monitoring charter schools to see that they operate as promised. I also think the state does have a solemn constitutional obligation not to approve charter schools proposed in Pulaski or anywhere else more for reasons of sanctuary — racial, economic or clannish — than educational benefit.

MEMO FROM BAKER KURRUS TO SCHOOL BOARD

Thank you for this report [an earlier report by attorney Chris Heller on unsuccessful efforts by the district and state to settle legal differences]. I remain opposed to litigation as a way to address these issues.

There is no purpose served by recounting the reasons in detail. Suffice it to say that even winning such a long-shot, jackpot lawsuit, years down the road, will not correct the problems encountered by the thousands of our students who are presently failing to achieve at satisfactory levels.

If "cream skimming" is the issue, why did LRSD stand by silently for 35 years while upper income whites and blacks left our district in droves? Now we seek to blame the ADE for the things that have been happening steadily and unrelentingly for years. I am quite sure that the ADE did not properly approve and monitor a number of charter schools, but these acts have not been the cause of our problems. Our problems with cream skimming and flight have been around for three decades before charters existed. In order to win a lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove breach of duty or contract, and must prove that the breach caused the damages suffered by the plaintiff. If the allegations in the petition are all taken as true, these bad acts are unlikely to result in any recovery or remedy in favor of LRSD unless those acts caused damage to LRSD. This is a desegregation lawsuit. LRSD was, for all practical purposes, a one-race district with a declining white population before charter schools were conceived. Moreover, several of the local charter schools are desegregated or majority black. Our opponents in litigation will know this and will attempt to persuade the court that a unitary LRSD should simply receive the same funding as every other unitary school district in this state. Our argument is attenuated and vague. The state's argument is simple and straight-forward.

LRSD simply does not want to face up to its problems squarely and address the root causes which have been around for so many years. There is no shortage of available white students in LRSD. They are not coming to our district because they don't like what we offer. These people are willing to spend a lot of money in order to go elsewhere, and they were going elsewhere long before charters existed. Now some of them go to charter schools, too.

LRSD's settlement proposal was doomed from the start, because it asked others to commit to vague obligations with no end date. If our litigation has taught the parties anything, it has taught them to promise only what can be delivered and measured. More "charter magnets," more money, more lawyers and more wasted administrative time still miss the main point. We have poor kids who are failing. Bringing back kids who are not failing will not change the classroom experience for a single child marooned in a backwater school with poor instruction.

Every parent who put a child in a charter did so because they thought that charter was a better choice for their child. Every one of them will loathe this lawsuit. Every parent with a potential LRSD student will see the district as failing, because that is what LRSD must argue to get relief—LRSD will trumpet that it is failing because of charter schools. This is not true, but LRSD must argue this point to compel its case. If LRSD simply argues that charters are bad, but not damaging LRSD, there is no relief. Those who study our district will know that our failures, and our successes, are related to hard work, strong instruction, parental involvement and good leadership. The federal courts cannot provide any of these things, as districts all over this country have learned after years of litigation and billions of dollars wasted.

We asked to be unitary, and the court told us to move forward on our own, recognizing our constitutional obligations. Instead of going to work on the things it can change, LRSD launches another vague, complex, convoluted lawsuit which will divert it from our mission, and give those who seek excuses one more place to lay the blame.

This charter issue only got to be an issue when LRSD saw that its ability to continue to employ hundreds of non-productive people was imperiled.

I cry.

Baker

KURRUS MEMO IN RESPONSE TO HELLER'S NOTICE THAT HE'D FILE THE MOTION ON CHARTERS

The process which has resulted in the filing of this motion was, at best, unpredictable and flawed, and at worst, a dereliction of duty by the board.

The board voted by a narrow margin to authorize the filing of the suit if the attorney decided to do so, after negotiating with the state. The parameters of the negotiation were loose and undefined. The attorney then made a proposal to the state that had no chance of even drawing a counter-proposal. The negotiations never got started because LRSD made a completely unreasonable and incomprehensible demand at the outset. Now we are back in federal court, distracted from the pressing business of turning our district around. We are engrossed in another messy, expensive legal entanglement which quite well could result in the prompt and complete termination of the state assistance upon which we have come to depend. The court has already determined that LRSD is unitary. Prior to the initiation of any charter school, LRSD was by all practical measures either a one race district, or rapidly becoming one. For us to complain at this time, regardless of the state's mistakes, is preposterous. It will become even more preposterous and damaging as droves of parents come forward and testify that the charter alternative has been the best thing that ever happened to their children. A very large number of these witnesses will be minorities. The rest will be parents who said they were leaving after the Brooks debacle, regardless of whether they went to a charter, to a private school, or to another central Arkansas community.

The other major problem with this distraction is that the financial impact of a lost high achiever is not crystal clear. Our state equalization aid is reduced slightly, but we also continue to receive all of the tax revenue generated by our large millage and large tax base. Even if the equalization is removed entirely, we still have, on a per pupil basis, a lot more money that is deemed necessary under Lakeview to provide an adequate education to an Arkansas student.

Our problems are of our own making. This is the point that must be addressed, both in the context of this losing lawsuit and in the overall context of making this school district attractive to people who have choices.

The motion is fatally flawed.

BK

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