EMBARRASSMENT: When members of the Little Rock Nine return for the 60th anniversary of the school crisis this fall, they'll find a city where the majority black school board was abolished two years ago and not been replaced, an NAACP official told the city Board tonight.
The Little Rock City Board
approved a resolution Tuesday night asking the state Board of Education
to return the schools to local control. Sometime.
It was a dispiriting, rote exercise.
City Director Erma Hendrix
declared she was a Republican and supported whatever Gov. Asa Hutchinson
had "instructed" Republican Education Commissioner Johnny Key
and the state Department to do. And she represents a majority black ward in the school district.
City Director Joan Adcock,
a supporter of the takeover two years ago, offered some lip service to recent improvement in the schools and Superintendent Michael Poore's
leadership, but said, "I think we need to slow down and let the process work."
How long should it be allowed to work? Who knows. Nobody on the board had bothered to find out much about the implementation of a new state law mentioned in the resolution
that MIGHT provide the board more reason to restore local control than it has found before.
Adcock complained nobody had come to her saying they wanted to serve on the School Board. City Director Ken Richardson
observed, I think I heard correctly though it would have been correct to say, that there's no School Board for which to run at the moment.
Mayor Mark Stodola
said he'd revised an earlier resolution to add some stuff dictated by LRSD about district achievements. Thanks mayor.
That was about it from the Board. A pretty uninspiring performance. Director Capi Peck
tried to get a vote on the resolution without debate, likely fearing the discussion could turn south, as indeed it did.
Two members of the public spoke — long-time NAACP leader Dale Charles
and Dr. Anika Whitfield,
an outspoken advocate of keeping schools open and returning local control. Charles said he still objected, as he did during a recent unsuccessful millage vote election, to paying tax money to a district without democratic representation. He noted the 60th anniversary this coming fall of the Central HIgh School crisis — a time black students "went through hell." He said "I'm embarrassed for the Little Rock Nine. They'll come back and they don't have a school board."
Whitfield said the resolution was a nice gesture, but she said more aggressive action was needed by the board in lobbying of the governor, Key and the Walton Family Foundation, t
he power behind the scenes on the school "choice" movement that has done such damage to the district through charter schools.
Whitfield also politely called out Adcock, who'd bragged about a day she'd spent with the Education Board last week. It was so Adcock could advocate a continued charter for the academically and financially troubled Covenant Keepers charter school
in Southwest Little Rock. That was "heartwarming" Whitfield said. She urged that Adcock go to work for the same sort of "special session" Covenant Keepers was granted for the Little Rock School District. And she urged Adcock to appear at the meeting to give the same sort of support for Little Rock schools.
Whitfield said Adcock knew that there was an "orchestrated plan," backed by the Walton Foundation, to keep Covenant Keepers open. "You have connections," she told Adcock. Put them to work for Little Rock, she said. It's not likely to happen given Adcock's history.
Hendrix interjected that at least a year was needed for people to express an interest in running before an election could be held. Charles said that the Pulaski School District moved quickly once it was removed from fiscal distress.
No ringing speeches for Little Rock schools here. Just a mild resolution that state leaders will feel no compunction to act upon. The resolution passed on voice vote. No roll call. But the vote to end debate was 5-5. That tells you something about the passion this board has for Little Rock public schools. Not much.
The disinterest by the board — and sometimes animus — has shown down through the years. It has contributed to a crippled school district and the connected evolution of a crime-plagued, barely growing city with a vast stretch of deteriorating inner city and sprawling high income developments to the west. No amount of taxpayer welfare handouts to the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce
(which also supported abolition of the majority-black school board) and its pet corporate welfare projects such as the Tech Park
can do much about the fundamental rot.
"It's still about race" in 2017, Charles said. They were the most cogent words of the evening.
Side note: Adcock has long been rankled by disruption of her time as a student Central by the school crisis. She wouldn't participate in the 40th anniversary of the event that included opening of a museum, now a national historical site, that commemorated those events.
UPDATE: I watched by TV and could not hear voice vote. Democrat-Gazette reports old school foe Lance Hines joined Hendrix and Adcock in voting against resolution.
RELATED: An application for a zoning change to convert the vacant Mitchell School a
t 24th and Battery into a charter schoo
l in a building purchased by a Walton Family Foundation
affiliate was tabled when no representative of the school turned up. It will come up again in two weeks. Director Hendrix dared anyone to oppose the measure in her neighborhood and Director Doris Wright
said she'd defer to her wishes in the ward, but thought the applicant should answer questions. Indeed, the school is another body blow to Little Rock schools and was represented as needed because of the deficiencies of nearby Little Rock schools, also in Hendrix's ward, such as Gibbs, Dunbar, Carver, Stephens, Booker, Mann
and more. Perhaps the backers didn't want to discuss a new 535-student charter school the same night the board was tendering symbolic support for the Little Rock School District. The school hasn't been approved by the state Board yet, but the Walton purchase would indicate they expect smooth sailing. With good reason based on history.