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Judge Miller serves on board of Southern Bancorp nonprofit

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Federal Judge Brian Miller has made heads swivel twice now – first by ordering an end to millions in state desegregation aid to Pulaski County schools and then, last Friday, by removing himself from the Pulaski County school desegregation case.

Miller didn't fully explain, but said his hometown ties in Helena left him with opinions that prevented him from continuing. Helena-West Helena, along with the Pulaski County School District, a party in the deseg case, were put in state trusteeship. Miller's brother was removed from the Helena-West Helena School Board and a friend was removed as superintendent.

But here's another relationship of interest. Miller is currently chairman of the board of the Southern Bancorp Capital Partners, a nonprofit arm of the Southern Bancorp. The nonprofit has pumped money into Phillips County schools, including the KIPP Academy charter school. The Bancorp itself, where Miller served eight years as a board member, has provided financing to a number of charter schools, including the Lighthouse and eStem schools in Pulaski County. Until Friday, Miller, in addition to having ruled that the state was wasting its money on Pulaski County school districts, had under consideration an argument by the Little Rock School District that the state had encouraged resegregation in Pulaski by creation of the open enrollment charter schools here. The bank board doesn't make loan decisions. But his long relationship to an organization pushing alternatives to the Pulaski schools raises questions. He didn't respond to a written inquiry on the subject.

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