We've noted before
AS THE HEIGHTS TURNS: Did Hurst allies meddle with pre-k placement for political gain?
the odd involvement of Leslie Fisken
, a Little Rock School Board
member, in e-mail correspondence with Freddie Fields
, LRSD Senior Director of Student Services, regarding the pre-k placement of Democratic state rep canidate Clarke Tucker
's 4-year-old. The emails came to light via oppo research by the Republican party on behalf of Tucker's Republican opponent, Stacy Hurst.
Fisken is a Hurst supporter who sent out a letter in support of the Hurst campaign. Why was she involved in the pre-k placement of the Tuckers' child? The Tuckers said they never contacted her about the matter. (Strangest moment: Freeman forwards her news about possible placements for Ellis, with a happy face; Fisken responded, "Interesting.") She hasn't returned our calls asking what's up.
The Blue Hog Report blog has done some more reporting and FOI digging and here's the gist:
* It looks like there wasn't actually a spot at Fair Park
when Fields e-mailed Tucker on August 13 saying that there was a spot at Fair Park, but he needed to know immediately. This was the e-mail that the Hurst campaign argues shows that Tucker wasn't telling the truth on his mailer about getting turned down for pre-k. The Hurst argument here was flimsy to begin with
, but it's certainly a bizarre turn in the story if the spot that the Tuckers were offered by Fields didn't really exist.
* Fields, in violation of FOI law, did not provide an e-mail requested by Tucker campaign consultant Michael Cook. The email in question, sent on August 20 from Fields to Clarke Tucker's wife Toni (who passed it on to Blue Hog) was sent on August 20. Tucker asked whether there was any movement on the waiting list, Fields responded that they hadn't begun looking at at the pre-k 4-year-old list. Blue Hog argues this is a smoking gun:
Yet, only a week before, he had contacted Mrs. Tucker to tell her that her P4 son had a spot at Fair Park if she wanted it. If they had not begun looking at P4s on 8/20, why was he looking at P4s on 8/13?
Perhaps a more pointed question would be, why was Mrs. Tucker offered a spot at Fair Park on 8/13 when her son was still 24th on the Fair Park waiting list, if the LRSD was not even looking at P4 waiting lists at that point?
* Did Fields not provide the e-mail because of an honest mistake? Blue Hog is skeptical, suggesting the possibility that "Dr. Fields intentionally withheld or deleted this email because he knew it made the 8/13 'offer' an obvious lie. This explanation is particularly troubling, though, because the 8/13 offer is the same one that Dr. Fields forwarded to Leslie Fisken with an emoticon and no explanation."
* Blue Hog quotes "a source with knowledge of the LRSD placement system" that Fisken and former school board member Melanie Fox
arranged to rig things so that the Tuckers' child would not get a spot at Forrest Park
Blue Hog goes into much, much, much more background
on political machinations in the Heights, including Fox, the Forest Park PTA, Kelly Eichler and more. I'm not even going to pretend to understand it all.
This is the conspiracy theory that many folks have peddled to me since we first reported it. The idea is that this was an elaborate setup to try to make it look like the Tuckers were using their connections to get their son into a pre-k program when he was not at the top of the waiting list. When that didn't work out, they instead tried to use the Tuckers declining the Fair Park spot to undercut the Tuckers' story about being denied a pre-k slot (or perhaps to try to make them look petulant in aggressively pursuing a spot at Forrest Park; when she spoke with me, Hurst certainly seemed focused on the notion that the Tuckers were trying a little too hard
to get their kid into their first-choice school — that's the long and the short of the "rumors at cocktail parties" that Hurst said she was digging into in the first place).
The evidence here is circumstantial and unbearably convoluted. Probably the majority of Blue Hog's readers are from that district, so this stuff is out there now. Make of it what you will. One thing I will say is that I still have heard no good explanation of why Fisken was in the middle of all this. If a school board member really was meddling for political reasons, that's an awful scandal. I don't think Blue Hog has proof, but this does smell a little funny.