Columns » Max Brantley

What now?

by and

comment

Last week's Little Rock School Board runoff in Zone 2 ended as the odds suggested it would — incumbent Micheal Daugherty was re-elected.

But what an election. More than 2,700 people voted — 50 percent more than in the first election and more than many a state legislative race.

It was old-fashioned politics. Supporters of Daugherty and Anna Swaim went door-to-door repeatedly with campaign literature.

In a zone whose population is about two-thirds black, Swaim, who is white, got nearly half the vote. She ran a solid campaign and gave a classy concession, vowing to continue to work for public schools. Daugherty, who is black, seemed to promise to seek more unity on a board that has been split recently on racial lines, with four black members in the usual majority.

A correction to the daily press: Those who think this election was simply about teacher union influence need to spend more time on the street. Teachers were split. Many supported Swaim, for good reason. She was a friend of the CTA. If this was a victory for any definable group, it was for the black opinion leader networks that united behind Daugherty. Repeatedly, high profile blacks rejected entreaties from the white business community to support Swaim.

The next year is important. I hope for orderly, transparent and inclusive School Board meetings. I hope the black majority works mightily for students left behind. But I also hope it doesn't punish the others, such as by diminishing accelerated programs at places like Central and Parkview.

Important as the short term is, the longer term is more important. Little Rock is moving inexorably down a path other cities have blazed. The city of Little Rock, according to 2006 Census numbers, is close to being a majority minority city. Non-Hispanic whites accounted for 50.1 percent of the city's 187,535 population; blacks were 41.9 percent; Hispanics were 4.7 percent, and other minorities made up the rest.

The numbers suggest that the Little Rock School District itself is already majority minority. The district is much smaller than the city because it doesn't include, among others, the predominantly white Chenal Valley. In 2000, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the school district population was 53 percent white, 41 percent black and 3 percent Hispanic. The city at large has grown less white in the seven years since, so the school district has certainly done the same, and probably disproportionately so. What's more, it was already in 2000 overwhelmingly minority in population (not enrollment) aged 5-19 — 38 percent white, 56 percent black and 3 percent Hispanic. District classroom enrollment is 68 percent black.

So, the school district is and will continue to be majority black. The larger city, barring an explosive birth rate in the west or annexations all the way to Oklahoma, will track that composition over time.

This is what many business leaders really mean when they talk about how the black school board majority could produce a Detroit or a Washington, D.C. They fear the skin color of the board majority could put more whites to flight from the schools and the city, with a racial monoculture in their wake. But this process was at work long before this School Board election. It can only be hastened by alarmist rhetoric and reversed by changing hearts and minds. A little brotherly love couldn't hurt.

Add a comment

Clicky