WALKER: Agrees to settlement, but vows to continue fighting 'racial hostility.'
It was not a pretty ending tonight at the Little Rock School Board to the three-decade-running school desegregation suit. John Walker,
who had worked out a settlement
deal with Attorney General Dustin McDaniel
and LRSD attorney Chris Heller prior to the specially called meeting, was denied the right to speak before the board, an action he said illustrated lingering racism in the district.
Walker asked the board to speak after members adopted a
to be guided by its facilities needs study on how to spend the $37.3 million the settlement provides for facilities funding and before its discussion on the sole agenda item to agree to the terms of the settlement with or without the blessing of the Joshua intervenors. When board chair Greg Adams said the special meeting did not allow comments from the public, Walker responded that he wasn't the public, he was a party to the suit. He declared the denial "unconscionable."
Board member C.E. McAdoo
then moved that the board suspend its rules to allow Walker to speak (as it had done to pass the spending resolution) and Dianne Curry
seconded it. The board had earlier suspended the rules to vote on the resolution, and at that time Adams said suspending the rules required a unanimous vote, which the resolution got. But some questioned that rule when McAdoo made his motion, and there was a flurry of policy consultation before Adams confirmed a unanimous vote was required. Member Leslie Fisken
was the spoiler, voting against the motion on the grounds that if Walker could speak, so should everyone else in the room be able to speak. And that, Walker proclaimed, was evidence of "a degree of racial hostility" in the LRSD that he vowed to fight "the rest of my life."
What he was going to say, Walker said after the board voted, was that he'd agreed to the join the settlement if the district committed, through the resolution, to channel most of the facilities money to Southwest Little Rock. Walker pointed out the dollars poured into affluent West Little Rock — where the district has purchased land to build a middle school — and the decrepit condition of schools in the Southwest portion of the district, which many members of the board tonight declared needed a new high school.
The West Little Rock middle school — a priority of new Superintendent Dexter Suggs
, seen both as a way to compete against charter schools in the area and to get white votes for a millage increase — was one reason the Joshua intervenors held off on joining the settlement. Walker wanted the settlement to stipulate that the Little Rock School District would not be allowed to build a new middle school in West Little Rock. McDaniel agreed to let Walker and Little Rock negotiate on facilities funding separately.
The resolution states that the district "will use the $37.3 million in facilities funding from the settlement to address the needs identified in the facilities study, and to equitably address and maintain the needs of Southwest Little rock schools, by giving priority to the schools with the greatest needs." Board member Tara Shephard
said "history shows we'll not spend that money where we need to" without the resolution. The resolution first made specific reference to Southwest Little Rock in defining the facilities study as one identifying the needs in Southwest, but the board struck the word Southwest to clarify that it was studying the needs of all the district. [Correction: The earlier version of this post said the reference to Southwest was struck in the portion of the resolution in quotes above.] Fisken voted against the resolution, making the vote 6-1.
Attorney General McDaniel released a statement about 20 minutes ago saying all parties — the state, the Little Rock School District, North Little Rock School District, Pulaski County School District, Joshua intervenors and Knight intervenors — agreed to the tentative settlement.
"This is a historic milestone decades in the making. With this agreement, the State and the three Pulaski County school districts can move forward to focus on the best interests of the students, rather than on costly, burdensome litigation.
"We look forward to presenting this agreement to the Court very soon."
Federal District Judge Price Marshall
will hear arguments in the case in December.
Walker and McDaniel confer before the LRSD board meeting, where the board passed a resolution to spend fourth-year settlement funds on facilities in the Southwest party of the district.