WHERE'S JOHNNY: His refusal to communicate with senators leads to a hold on the state Education Department's budget.
The Joint Budget Committee
was unable to consider the huge Education Department budget this morning because Sens. Joyce Elliott and Linda Chesterfield said Commissioner Johnny Key had not talked to them about their holds on the budget.
Staff members of the Education Department told Chair Larry Teague they were aware of the senators' holds — which arise from unhappiness about Key's firing of Little Rock School Superintendent Baker Kurrus.
Elliott said she wanted to be contacted by Key, who skipped her session at the Capitol yesterday about the Kurrus issue. Chesterfield said he had not contacted her either.
Teague delayed the item and said the committee would reconvene after the House and Senate adjourn this afternoon. Will Key make an appearance? To date, his public comments have been carefully doled out remarks in friendly settings.
UPDATE: On a related matter, the governor's office is sending a form letter to people complaining about the axing of Kurrus. Short form: You don't know what you're talking about, I know what's best for LR schools.
"While I acknowledge there were many aspects of the announcement that were mishandled, Commissioner Key's decision to change direction in leadership was sound and fair given the broader context of issues the academically distressed district is facing. Commissioner Key is committed to the continued and successful implementation of Baker Kurrus' work in the financial and organizational arenas, and I am confident Michael Poore will bring a solid academic framework as well."
A firing is a firing. What was "mishandled"? That your PR machine didn't get to spin it first? What does Johnny Key know about academic issues? More dumping on Little Rock from The Hutch.
UPDATE II: The Arkansas Public Policy Panel notes that Key, the de facto Little Rock School Board, is infamous for being unreachable.
In the 15 months since the state took over LRSD, he has made very few public appearances in the District. He created the LRSD Civic Advisory Council but never met with or never consulted with them - so much so that they called for his replacement last week.
Since firing Superintendent Baker Kurrus for doing his job and standing up for the 25,000 children of LRSD, Mr. Key has not appeared in public to explain his reasoning to Little Rock taxpayers other than a carefully scripted news conference in his offices.
Yesterday lawmakers invited him to a public hearing with 150 residents to explain his thinking and lay out his vision for where LRSD and public education are going, and to take questions from concerned residents and policy makers — but he was too busy to attend. The Little Rock City Council has asked him to appear — again he's too busy for questions and accountability.
While you have the Governor's office on the line, ask them to place a moratorium on charter schools and waivers in Little Rock, and return LRSD to a locally elected school board this year.
UPDATE III: I'm told Key finally met with Elliott and Chesterfield and the budget hold was released. Hope to hear more.
Sen. Elliott called later to say she and Chesterfield had met with Key and talked about several issues, including the takeover and the Kurrus replacement. She continues to be struck by a lack of participation in whatever the state has planned. She said she's never seen such a lack of interest in a whole community as the Hutchinson administration has demonstrated in handling Little Rock schools. Amen to that. Key did disclose that Supt. Mike Poore's pre-decided emphasis on some career-path education includes a plan to put these career "centers" at Hall, McClellan and Fair high schools. This will not look good to some, who'll see putting "career" focus in the most segregated, lowest-achieving high schools as a not-so-subtle form of "tracking."