Q: Is there a way to get taxpayers' $250,000 Suggs payout back? A: Probably not. | Arkansas Blog

Q: Is there a way to get taxpayers' $250,000 Suggs payout back? A: Probably not.


ROY BROOKS: A lawsuit over his severance package offers little hope for those unhappy about the $250,000 going to Dexter Suggs.
  • ROY BROOKS: A lawsuit over his severance package offers little hope for those unhappy about the $250,000 going to Dexter Suggs.
Readers say: Surely there's a way to stop a payment of up to $250,000 in severance pay to Dexter Suggs, constructively fired Monday as interim superintendent of the Little Rock School District.

To add Little Rock insult to statewide taxpayer injury, Republican state Education Commissioner Johnny Key of Mountain Home, whose duties as envisioned by Gov. Asa Hutchinson had included the expected privatizing of the Little Rock School District before an unexpected legisaltive setback, has decreed that Little Rock school funds, not state funds, will be used to pay Suggs over the next 10 months. Some of the district's money comes from the state, though a significant portion comes from local property taxes. (The payment could be reduced if Indiana Wesleyan nullifies his Ed.D. degree for apparent plagiarism.")

I welcome some legal crowd-sourcing on this point, but what little I know isn't good.

A taxpayer lawsuit was filed when the Little Rock School Board fired Superintendent Roy Brooks and gave him a $650,000 severance package. The lawsuit complained he was being paid for doing nothing. It said the Arkansas Constitution provides that school taxes may only be used for maintenance and operations of the schools, not paying someone to do nothing.

The Brooks case had one significant difference. Brooks had a contract. It allowed for his unilateral firing, but it also provided severance if he was fired. The Suggs situation is different. His contract with Little Rock ceased to have effect when the state took over the school district and abolished the School Board. He was kept on at his existing $202,000 rate of pay, but he became an at-will employee subject to Commissioner Key, acting as school board. Key decided it was time for him to go, after multiple screwups and the discovery of plagiarism by Blue Hog Report. He wouldn't talk to his yesterday, but gave a non-answer anwer to the Democrat-Gazette on the severance: "There are a lot of things unprecedented here because we have never been here before. This is a unique situation. You are plowing new ground with every decision that is made. That is where we found ourselves today."

Can the state spend my Little Rock property tax dollars to pay Dexter Suggs for doing nothing? It's an outrage — one of many that began with the state's decision to fire the democratically elected school board over district shortcomings but to keep Suggs, who bore day-to-day direct responsbility for those shortcomings. Probably. The state is immune from lawsuit on money issues.

Also, take a gander at the Arkansas Supreme Court ruling turning down the lawsuit over the payment to Roy Brooks. One key paragraph:

Without question, the payment of a salary and benefits to a superintendent is both “immediately and directly connected with the establishment and maintenance of a common school system” and “absolutely necessary” for the maintenance and operation of schools.5  Nevertheless, the taxpayers argue in their brief that “paying $656,000 to Dr. Brooks for not working benefits only Dr. Brooks-not the school.”   To the extent that the payment to Dr. Brooks represented severance pay, this argument overlooks the fact that the payment allowed the School Board to remove Dr. Brooks from his position and replace him with a person who, in the School Board's opinion, would be a better superintendent.   The School Board, while operating and maintaining the School District's schools, determined that the School District could be operated and maintained in a better manner by a different superintendent.   We have no doubt that this is a determination that falls within the “broad discretion ․ vested in the board of directors of each school district in the matter of directing the operation of the schools.” 

The moral: The Little Rock "school board" — Key — can screw with the Little Rock District now however he wants and will likely do so. Electing a different governor unbeholden to the Waltons' aims for privatizing Little Rock would be one long-term, longshot alternative.

Key so far SAYS the right things. He said last night that a return of democratic governance was part of his plan for the district as was communication with parents and the taxpayers he just stiffed.

Persistent questioning and eternal vigilance for those who believe the Little Rock School District is worth saving are the only options at this point. Defeat of the privatizing legislation — and, in fact, Suggs abrupt departure — are both signs that all is not yet lost.

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