by Max Brantley
North Little Rock School Superintendent Ken Kirspel confirms to me that school board members were surprised not to be notified in advance that the district's attorney had supported the Little Rock School District motion for a stay of Judge Brian Miller's order to immediately end most state desegregation financial aid.
The School Board will hear from attorney Steve Jones at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday about the request for a stay and the district's future options — for example whether it wants to appeal the core of the judge's order to end financial support. As a practical matter, Kirspel agreed, the three districts in Pulaski have little choice but to seek a stay in hopes of an orderly school year in the fall and an orderly end, if it is to come, to the $38 million aid now distributed in the three districts.
With school not much more than two months away, a number of interlocking financial arrangements and commitments are up in the air, particularly on how to operate magnet schools. The judge has also given the districts 30 days to show cause why support for desegregation transfer programs should not be discontinued. Together, magnets and transfers cover 5,000 children. But the districts may be bound by earlier court agreements to continue these programs, even without state transportation money and the aid that helps hires teachers and other staff.
Kirspel said Jones had tried to reach him Friday about the motion, but they hadn't talked before it was filed. He said at least two school board members had expressed unhappiness about not receiving notice. Jones said he viewed the stay request as part of the ongoing proceeding on whether the district had achieved unitary status. Judge Miller had said he was going to consider that issue first (North Little Rock was found "unitary" in most respects) and that he would consider money later. The judge surprised everyone by ruling that the state money was ineffective and should end.
Here's the North Little Rock motion on the stay.
UPDATE: Attorney General Dustin McDaniel naturally filed a motion opposing the stay. He says the school disricts have plenty of money. I think he wildly misconstrues Little Rock School Superintendent Morris Holmes assurances that it will continue all school operations next year. If Little Rock loses $38 million, plus the contributions to magnet schools from North Little Rock and Pulaski County, something is going to have to give — teachers and programs in magnet schools or in other schools. It's that simple. So is McDaniels' demagoguery.
For one thing, McDaniel says LRSD spends only 32 percent of revenue for classroom instruction, as if the rest is needless waste easily diverted to magnet schools. I call B.S. on that. Check the state Education Department data for yourself: The projected budget for this year shows $365 million in revenue and $115 million in "regular instruction." 32 percent indeed. But McDaniel doesn't count special ed, at $32 million, as instruction. Or $7 million worth of workforce education as instruction. Or $1.2 million of adult education as instruction. Or $14 million in remedial education as instruction. He views $17 million in transportation as "fat," presumably. $11 million worth of food service, more waste. $34 million in construction, more waste and fat. In other words, McDaniel is pretty close to a liar with this outrageously misleading statement. I've told you before how pitifully small the district's $21 million reserve fund, another amount McDaniel says could be spent at a twinkling.
LITTLE ROCK — In a court filing by Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, the State today asked a U.S. District Court judge to deny the Little Rock School District’s motion for a stay on appeal in the Pulaski County school desegregation case.
McDaniel’s response to the school district’s motion before Judge Brian S. Miller reaffirms the State’s position that the school district can meet its financial obligations without the supplemental desegregation funding that Miller ordered to be discontinued. The response states that the district cannot demonstrate it will suffer irreparable harm if Miller denies a stay of his order while his decision is on appeal.
“The claims that schools may be closed or that teachers may be laid off cause unnecessary fear among school district patrons and, most importantly, aren’t supported by the facts in this case,” McDaniel said. “The district has the financial ability to provide a quality education to students, and the State will continue to ensure that the ongoing needs of students are our top priority.”
According to an Annual Statistical Report prepared by the Department of Education from information provided by the districts, the Little Rock School District spent only 32 percent of its total revenue for classroom instruction in 2009-10. The district routinely maintains savings, or fund balances, of more than $20 million. Thus, the district can meet its financial needs with the loss of desegregation money, the State’s response said.
McDaniel said he was encouraged by comments attributed to Little Rock Superintendent Morris Holmes, who said that magnet schools will indeed be open for students in August. He said he was also pleased by news reports that indicate the School Board is preparing its fiscal goals with the loss of desegregation funding in mind (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 5, 2011).
“Parents and teachers have been very afraid about magnet schools closing this fall because of the statements made by the district’s lawyers,” McDaniel said. “I was very pleased to see Dr. Holmes reaffirm what I have been saying, which is that this ruling should not be viewed as a loss for parents, teachers and students.”
According to the State’s court filing, the district has long known of the eventuality that its desegregation funding would cease, thus challenging the district’s argument that the loss of funding on appeal would constitute an emergency. McDaniel makes clear in the response that the district’s fiscal obligations can and will be met.
“Judge Miller’s decision allows for the Little Rock School Board to craft a future for a district free of federal court supervision, which is the best scenario for our children,” McDaniel said. “The State will uphold its commitment to students. Regardless of whatever budgetary challenges there may be, we recognize it is better to work through those issues in a School Board conference room rather than a courtroom. We ask Judge Miller to deny the motion for stay and allow this case to end.”