Pushback on City Board vote supporting school millage

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After the City Board of Directors voted last night to express support of the proposed extension of millage for the Little Rock School District, Sen. Joyce Elliott took to Facebook to rebut Mayor Mark Stodola's contention that opponents of the extension are confusing state control of the district versus improvements of facilities.

I am neither confused, protesting nor missing the point as suggested by Mayor Mark Stodola (1st photo) or Director Capi Peck (2nd photo). I am a thinking person who is not gullible enough to fall for this sudden urgency about school facilities. Of course, upgrading and building new facilities are long past due, but I'm for doing it right. And we can. I am on the side of students and Constitutional rights. They are not mutually exclusive, nor should we ever be required to choose.

The democratically ELECTED city board of directors (with exception of Erma Hendrix and those absent) representing LRSD voted to endorse taxation without representation for the people, including students, of LRSD. The hits just keep on coming.

Opponents of the proposal, to push back the expiration date of 12.4 mills of the current tax rate of 46.4 mills by 14 years to pay for school upgrades and a new school in Southwest Little Rock, are not the usual tax naysayers. They are public school supporters whose opposition derives from the fact that the charter-school-supporting State Department of Education has taken over the Little Rock District and there is no local control.

Samantha Toro, who also has been campaigning against the proposal, today sent the following open letter to the City Board of Directors:
Hello City Board, Mayor, and City Manager,

Thank you for taking the time last night to hear citizens speak about the LRSD Millage Issue. I appreciate your willingness to listen to folks.

It is unfortunate that I was the very first speaker and did not get a chance to offer a rebuttal or clarification once the conversation went completely off the rails. By the end of the hour, it sounded like the people in my camp were opposed to feeding children. How the heck did we end up there?! This is a vast oversimplification bordering on comical.

Oversimplification, however, seemed to work in your favor last night.

"It's all about the children."
"Stop making it about control, it's about the kids."
"The fire alarms aren't up to code." (Seriously, what the heck? How has the school district, with its annual $26 million surplus from the current debt-service mills and $37 million in desegregation funds, not fixed that?)

I would like to push back on the notion that my fellow anti-millage campaigners and I are “confused.” Our positions are thoroughly researched and vetted with various knowledgeable community members. My friends and I hosted a study group on the LRSD Millage issue ballot text. I read statutes, budgets, and historical documents for fun. We are far from confused.

I don’t like drawing attention to myself — I prefer to research and write behind the scenes. I don’t open my mouth unless it is necessary, unless I have full confidence in what I’m saying. I don’t pretend to be infallible, but the decision to make public statements is not one I take lightly.

I think we all (or at least most of us) have the same end goal in mind — regaining local, democratic control of the Little Rock School District and creating a world-class public education system. The state’s egregious actions of dismantling our school board, ramming through thousands of charter expansions despite public outcry, firing Baker Kurrus, etc. have been difficult to bear.

And who helped make this happen? The LR Chamber of Commerce, Arkansas Learns, various Walton-funded education lobbyists, the State Board of Education, the state legislature in general, the list goes on.

Some of you spoke last night on how you vigorously opposed the state’s attempts to dismantle our school district. Yet by supporting the millage, you are placing your trust in the VERY SAME PEOPLE who caused the state takeover circus. The architects of the takeover I listed above, the people responsible for the district’s lack of representation and outrageous charter expansions, are the funders, staffers, and supporters of the pro-millage campaign.

“But they’re supporting a good thing this time. Why not team up with them?”
I have little faith in unholy alliances. This same gang of usual suspects, including our acting “school board” Johnny Key, helped push forth SB308 (now Act 542) this legislative session, which gives charter schools first dibs on “under utilized” public school buildings. Of course, “under utilized” is left deliberately vague, with discretion given to the local school board (oh wait, that’s Johnny Key!).

Mr. Key is both deliberately draining students (and revenue) from the LRSD via increased charter expansions, while putting the district further into debt to fix up its buildings. This sounds like a calculated, long term plan to turn over buildings to charter operators. And of course, many of the city's business interests will benefit from this.

There is no check on Key’s power. As much as everyone loves Superintendent Poore, he is ultimately accountable to Key, not the citizens of Little Rock.

That’s not to say the buildings don’t need improvements — most folks on my side 100% agree that they do. But to hand over more than $600 million tax dollars to a completely unaccountable, untrustworthy political apparatus that has harmed us in the past is too difficult a pill to swallow.

If the Chamber and other power brokers in the city advocated for the return of the LRSD to local control as feverishly as they support this millage campaign, we would have regained local control YESTERDAY.

I would happily join forces with you, the City government, in any efforts to push for local control. We need to raise the money the right way — restore democratic representation, then vote on the millage.

The people constantly stuck under the boot of the powerful are fed up.

Take a gander at the campaign finance reports. Just look at the grassroots vs. institutional nature of the two campaigns. It’s David vs. Goliath. And you’re on the side of Goliath.

Do not dismiss the black leaders of this city, the young folks, the political energy that is brewing in the communities south of I-630. You do so to your detriment. Try to understand us — after all, we have many of the same end goals. But your trust in the political process that has consistently dismissed this city’s poor communities of color is difficult for us to reconcile.

I will continue my vigorous opposition to this millage, but I look forward to working with you in other ways to help restore democracy to the Little Rock School District.


My very best regards,

Samantha Toro



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