by Max Brantley
From: "GUESS, JERRY"
Date: July 17, 2017 at 2:10:27 PM CDT
To: BOARD MEMBERS , CABINET , PRINCIPALS
Subject: Response to Comments regarding Doe v. LRSD
To: Members of the Board, Cabinet, and Principals:
Due to the controversy that erupted late last week in connection with the Doe v. LRSD lawsuit, I feel that it is necessary for me to issue a statement of explanation.
First, it is important to remember that PCSSD has not yet agreed to anything other than to attempt to negotiate unitary status in facilities, student achievement, and discipline. We have a 60 day window to reach an agreement with John Walker on all three subject areas. If prior negotiations are indicative, and they are, this will be no small feat.
As superintendent, it is my job to accomplish the board’s objectives as they are determined by a majority of board members. It is the superintendent’s responsibility – not individual board members’ – to make the decisions necessary to accomplish those objectives. In directing my attorneys to work with John Walker and attorneys for the State and LRSD to get a continuance in the Doe lawsuit, I was attempting to accomplish the board’s directive to achieve unitary status in the long-running desegregation case. In my previous discussions with board members, I conveyed my belief that this would be a lengthy process, between 1-2 years, due to the complexity of the remaining issues – facilities, student achievement, and discipline – and John Walker’s continued insistence that we were not unitary in those areas. In other words, it was the lawyers’ opinion that all three subjects would require contested trials. Considering Judge Marshall’s crowded schedule, preparation time, and actual trial, it would take a minimum of six months per issue — a total of at least 18 months.
Mr. Walker’s newfound openness to engage in discussions presented a unique opportunity for the district, in my opinion, and one with a rapidly closing window for seizing. I cannot, and will not, solicit the opinion of every board member at every point a decision must be made. Of course, Mr. Walker had to believe he had something to gain. It appeared to us that something was return to local control for LRSD.
Since return to an elected school board for LRSD was in no way a negative for PCSSD, I directed the district’s desegregation lawyers, Allen Roberts and Whitney Moore, to do whatever was needed to get the trial in the Doe case continued so that we could begin negotiating unitary status in the remaining areas. Their judgment, with which I agree, was that a continuance would not have been granted in that trial without an express statement to Judge Marshall that PCSSD was open to entering negotiations and considering alterations to its boundaries.
Additionally, it is my firm belief that the State Board of Education fully intends to dismantle PCSSD as soon as it is declared unitary, with the likely creation of one district south of the river, the annexation of Shannon Hills to Bryant, and the creation of single districts for the cities of Maumelle and Sherwood. This belief is based on two facts - one, the SBE is the entity with the legal power to change school district boundaries and two, the SBE’s unanimous adoption in June 2015 of a report that recommends the dissolution of PCSSD along the lines described above “if and when SBE’s powers over district lines in Pulaski County are restored.” (See SBE Report, page 5). A copy of this report is attached for your information.
I believe the district can succeed as it stands currently; indeed, two years ago I spoke against the SBE’s “South Pulaski district” approach to no avail. However, I do not believe the SBE’s quest to change our boundaries can be stopped. I also believe that a substantial number of the district’s citizens would support these boundary changes, with a majority of those persons residing in Sherwood and Shannon Hills but a significant number in Maumelle as well. I do not mean to ignore the substantial opposition the boundary changes would likely elicit in the Robinson and Sweet Home communities; I am simply stating that those communities would be in the minority if the question of changing boundaries was put to a vote.
The choice, then, is between getting unitary sooner and facing the SBE’s music, or delaying unitary status in order to keep the district’s boundaries intact for a short while longer. My opinion is that achieving unitary status is the foremost concern of this district and cannot be intentionally delayed. My responsibility to the students, parents, and employees of this district, after 35 years of litigation, is to return them to normal operations, i.e., without court supervision or monitoring by the Joshua intervenors, as soon as humanly possible.
The opportunity presented by the Doe case also gives PCSSD a seat at the table, which allows us to exercise some control over any changes to our boundaries and the resulting impact on our employees and students. I do not believe that luxury will be afforded us if we achieve unitary status without a deal with the State already in place.
Remember, John Walker and LRSD did not BOTH express an interest in meeting our condition until a week before the July 18 trial date for Doe. Nevertheless, I met with as many board members who would and could take the time to meet with me last week. At the same time, I directed the attorneys to vigorously pursue these negotiations. They succeeded. If it is not the will of the board to end the 35-year-old lawsuit as soon as possible, then a majority of board members should have said that when we discussed the issue during those meetings, or they should say it now.
Having said all of that, it is clear to me that this cannot go on as it is. The board has lost confidence in me and my lawyers of choice. A school district cannot operate successfully without the school board having confidence in its superintendent. Once the board tells me to go, Allen and Whitney will, of course, go with me. I will continue to work in the best interests of the district, particularly its students and employees. And when the board sends me home I’m willing, if and when asked, to come in during the following six months to help you find my successor, as well as helping that successor become oriented and make the transition.