Tweet of the week
"The City of LR is going after Amazon HQ2! Teamed with our Econ Development team at the Chamber and AEDC we will Think Big and Be Creative" — Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola (@LittleRockMayor). Think big, all right. Amazon is looking for a metropolitan area of 1 million people, an international airport, mass transit and a workforce of thousands of technology-talented workers, all of which are in short supply in Little Rock.
Racial bias suit settled
The Little Rock School District and a group of African-American plaintiffs represented by veteran civil rights attorney Rep. John Walker (D-Little Rock) reached a settlement in a racial bias lawsuit. Plaintiffs in the case, which had been scheduled to go to trial Sept. 13 before U.S. District Judge Price Marshall, alleged that the LRSD continues to effectively discriminate on the basis of race by providing inequitable school facilities and academic programs to black students.
Under the terms of the settlement, the district is required to increase access to AP and pre-AP classes, fix various facilities issues at three predominately African-American schools, and raise parent awareness of academic offerings such as AP classes, gifted and talented programs and the Forest Heights STEM Academy.
Walker and his firm will receive $100,000 in fees and costs. The district will receive assurances that the plaintiffs will not sue again.
The two most significant requirements, though, would come with a three-year timeline attached. The district would be required to redraw its high school attendance zones by fall 2020. It would also declare a moratorium on new construction projects, including school expansions, until a new high school is completed in Southwest Little Rock and Cloverdale Middle School is replaced.
Voters this spring rejected LRSD Superintendent Michael Poore's attempt to enact a $160 million capital improvement project by means of extending the life of the district's bonded debt. After the millage extension vote failed, the district decided to use second-lien bonds, a method of refinancing that does not require voter approval, to raise $90 million. Of that, an estimated $55 million will be used to build the new Southwest Little Rock high school, which will replace McClellan and also absorb J.A. Fair High School. Poore said groundbreaking for the new high school will be Oct. 2. Portions of the remaining money will be used to pay for the other facilities requirements in the settlement.
Scott jumps in mayor's race
Frank Scott Jr., a Little Rock banker who formerly sat on the state Highway Commission, has announced he's exploring a bid for Little Rock mayor in 2018, setting up at least a three-way contest for leadership of the city.
Scott will face at least two opponents: incumbent Mark Stodola and Rep. Warwick Sabin (D-Little Rock), who announced his own "exploration" of the mayoral race in July.
ACT results comparable to surrounding states
The state Department of Education has released aggregate ACT scores for the graduating class of 2017. The scores reflect for the first time a new statewide program to administer the college entrance exam to all public school juniors free of charge.
Arkansas's average composite ACT score fell by almost a full point, from 20.2 for last year's graduating class to 19.4 for the cohort that just graduated in May. That figure includes both public and private school students. For public school students alone, the average composite score was 19.2. The maximum possible ACT score is a 36.
The drop can be explained by the fact that 25 percent more public school students took the test, the Education Department said. Public schools statewide began administering the test to all juniors — paid for by the state — in 2016, so the class of 2017 was the first to benefit from the statewide program. The free statewide administration requirement only applies to public schools; private schools abide by different testing standards. Most of Arkansas's neighbors administer the test statewide, and Arkansas's 19.4 average is comparable to those found in Louisiana (19.5), Mississippi (18.6), Missouri (20.4), Oklahoma (19.4) and Tennessee (19.8).