Columns » Max Brantley

The 'best families'

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A couple of UALR professors apparently have enough hours at the end of their publicly financed work day to set up a little sideline, a private secondary school financed with public money, known euphemistically as a charter school. The LISA Academy would lure students, with state-paid tuition, to a program emphasizing accelerated math and science. It's a bad public investment. These courses are already available in the Little Rock School District. Plus, the diversion of public money and students breaks the state's federal court promise to never again take official action to promote segregation in Little Rock. The academy will take students from both the diminishing white school-age population and the pool of high-potential black students. This will further concentrate the hard cases in public schools, making them less attractive to everyone. I hope Little Rock sues to stop it. It's astounding that any state Board of Education member who claims to be a public education advocate could have voted for this siphon of public money after UALR's Serhan Dagtas said this: "What really makes a good school a great school is, of course, to do that [reach high achievement] with the less fortunate, still very talented kids, but not coming from the best families, which are already sending their kids to private schools." Thanks for the sneering putdown, bub. I'm a parent of two Little Rock School District graduates. I wonder if Dagtas knows that some of his learned UALR colleagues also have public school kids and thus are not among what Dagtas referred to as the "cream of the crop." No-count though they are, several of his UALR colleagues nonetheless parented students who've helped make the Little Rock public schools the leading producers of National Merit scholars in Arkansas year after year. Dagtas' insulting performance was a pity, really, considering UALR's goal to be an urban university, intimately engaged in the community. I believe in that mission. I raise money for the campus radio station. I helped start a scholarship fund to pay for poor kids to go to a summer enrichment program founded and nourished at UALR. My daughter benefited tremendously from a cooperative math program the college and school district operated. Thanks to Dagtas and his cohort Ibrahim Duyar, UALR is now distinguished as an operating base for opportunists who, with the blessing of their bosses, propose to pick the carcass of our school district for their own enrichment. I don't know about some of the other less-than-best families who stupidly support the Little Rock School District, but I'm inclined to think that it might be worth reconsidering whether UALR deserves either our financial support or our children. Also on schools: About those legislators who contrived a flimsy pretext - maintaining secrecy of athletic supporters' private donations - as a reason to oppose legislation that would require full accounting of public school athletic expenditures: 1) the private contributions are a pittance and legislators know it, and 2) any records of money contributed to and spent by a public entity already must be open under the state Freedom of Information Act. Not that the law means anything to these bozos. Simple arithmetic: Three members of the six state Supreme Court justices now sitting on the Lake View case are on record as saying at various times that the court should not have delayed its mandate on requiring equal and adequate schools. So we might presume the three are ready to act now in the 10-year-old disaster, not even counting what Chief Justice Betty Dickey, recently appointed by Gov. Mike Huckabee, decides to do. If the court splits 3-to-3 on taking action after arguments Jan. 24, Huckabee gets to appoint the deciding vote. Rural school lobby, your bluff is about to be called. Finally, a correction: I misspelled actress Hayley Mills' first name last week.

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