Hardly a day passes without another black eye for the Little Rock School District.
It’s fallout from last September’s school board elections, which produced a new majority opposed to Superintendent Roy Brooks. Brooks earned his trouble. He treated board critics with contempt. He cut secret deals with fat cat private school patrons intent on using the public schools as a laboratory for untested pet projects. He declared war on the Classroom Teachers Association, which is not the gang of incompetent union thugs many suppose. He summarily dismissed concerns of inner-city neighborhoods. He ousted administrators by the dozens (not all of them deadwood, despite the received wisdom in the Little Rock business community).
Did the new board majority — Katherine Mitchell, Charles Armstrong, Dianne Curry and Michael Daugherty — do any better? I’m afraid not. They’ve treated Brooks roughly. They’ve worked in secret on a plan to remove Brooks and install administrators more to their liking. They’ve disregarded board policy and fine points of the law. Their maneuvers have been clumsy, a tragicomic series of poorly scripted surprise attacks.
Last weekend, Board President Mitchell unilaterally notified nine administrators after sundown Friday that they might not hold the same jobs next year if Brooks is terminated. She gave no formal advance notice to the board or public about her action, though at least one board ally said he’d been told informally. Notices of potential job changes are a matter of routine when school reorganizations are pending, but they are typically delivered by a superintendent. The notice had little legal meaning. On the face of Mitchell’s letter, it seems to have been meant to silence the administrators in the ongoing effort to fire Brooks. (Indeed, he sued Monday making that precise point, though his suit is dubious legally. In short, he sued over damages that have not yet occurred.)
It should be evident to all that Brooks cannot successfully lead the Little Rock School District any longer. The board majority is within its right to change leadership if it can’t work with Brooks. But they should simply buy out his contract, a decision he can’t appeal in court. Mitchell believes there’s cause to fire him. As I go to press, I have yet to see proof sufficient to change hardened minds on this point. The desire to punish Brooks has had ill consequences, however. Legal fees have mounted. And now Brooks has put the district back in the federal court it recently escaped.
Extending the fight guarantees more bloodshed. In September, we’ll see the business community mount an all-out effort to shift the balance of power by defeating Brooks’ foe Michael Daugherty in his black-majority district. It will be ugly and racially charged.
We’ve had enough fighting. The current board majority should negotiate a paid Brooks departure. It should reach out to those making efforts to improve board communications. A baggage-free interim superintendent with no interest in the permanent job, perhaps assisted by an academic or business executive, should be brought in to lead the district during a careful search for a successor.
Kids in the Little Rock School District are more important than Roy Brooks, whether your desire is to humiliate him or to save his job. It’s time to start over. Sooner rather than later.