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As Arkansans Outside of Little Rock Say, 'That's Little Rock'

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Friday, July 7, 2017
Updated: Friday, July 7, 2017

You can't make this stuff up.

Those opposing new, refurbished LRSD facilities (Plaintiffs Ross, Springer) are suing the LRSD Superintendent and State Education Commissioner in federal court over inadequate, inequitable facilities. Better not be building, repurposing, refurbishing, and/or repairing buildings. Might undermine another John Walker lawsuit.

Nice work if you can bill it. Create and perpetuate issues in the district so bad that the State has to take over, then immediately sue the State as responsible for the issues local boards - including plaintiffs - created and perpetuated. Read it and weep for the students, families of LRSD.

Cannot wait to hear how plaintiffs explain to Judge Marshall how they seek better facilities by constantly fighting better facilities. If only journalists would have asked that question when reporting on opposition to the millage refinance/extension election and second lien bonds.

Trial set over Little Rock School District building conditions; lawsuit says whites get best, blacks less
By Cynthia Howell
Posted: May 30, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.
Shared by Permission

[Photo Caption]
Cloverdale Middle School is in disrepair, with exterior walls that are failing, according to a lawsuit accusing the Little Rock School District of racial discrimination in regard to the condition of campus buildings. The school serves a large number of students from minority groups.

Building conditions in the Little Rock School District were a big factor in the district's special tax election earlier this month, and they will come to the forefront again in a federal court trial scheduled to start July 18.

U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. will preside in the trial of a lawsuit filed in 2015 by a group of Little Rock district families who are black and by two displaced Little Rock School Board members. The defendants are Little Rock Superintendent Mike Poore and Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key. Key acts in place of a Little Rock school board and is Poore's supervisor in the state-controlled 24,000-student school district.

The trial comes in the wake of district voters soundly rejecting at a May 9 election a proposal to extend the levy of 12.4 property tax mills from 2033, when they are due to expire, to 2047. District leaders had proposed extending the debt service mills as a way to finance $202 million in bond issues, $160 million of which was earmarked to pay for part of the construction of a new $90 million high school in southwest Little Rock, plus improvements, repairs and updates at all other district campuses.

The parent and student plaintiffs in the pending lawsuit -- some of whom initially used the name of Doe instead of their real names -- are represented by a team of attorneys that includes state Rep. John W. Walker, D-Little Rock, and Robert Pressman of Lexington, Mass., as well as Shawn Childs and Austin Porter.

The plaintiffs challenged both the Jan. 28, 2015, state takeover of the school district and what they said are disparate school-building and academic services in the state's largest district.

Last year, Marshall dismissed the legal challenge to the state takeover that had resulted in the dismissal of the district's elected School Board, including Doe-case plaintiffs Jim Ross and Joy Springer. The takeover occurred because six of the district's 48 schools were state-labeled as academically distressed because of chronically low student achievement on state required tests. The number of schools in distress has since been reduced to three.

The state takeover issue is likely to be appealed later to a higher court, Walker said Friday.

The remaining issues in the case for trial in July are the allegations of racial discrimination in regard to the condition of campus buildings and in academic program offerings, school attendance zones, school staffing and discipline practices.

Central to the legal arguments by the Doe plaintiffs are the district's new Pinnacle View Middle and Dr. Don R. Roberts Elementary schools in northwest Little Rock, and Cloverdale Middle and McClellan High schools. Cloverdale and McClellan are much older campuses in the southwest part of the city, and they serve larger percentages of minority-group and low-income students than do schools in the district's northwest sector.

White students are favored in the district, the Doe attorneys contend.

"Plaintiffs claim that LRSD has allocated high-quality educational resources and top-end facilities to disproportionately white student populations in an effort to privilege, recruit and retain white students," a recent legal brief filed by the Doe team of attorneys stated.

They added that there is a "racially discriminatory impact on Plaintiffs, who are all black".

"The student plaintiffs, and their parents on their behalf, assert their Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause right to be educated in 'a system of public education freed of racial discrimination,'" the Doe attorneys also wrote, quoting from the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision, arising from a Topeka, Kan., case, that declared laws establishing racially separate schools to be illegal.

The plaintiffs are asking for a court order that would put the brakes on Pinnacle View Middle School -- which is opened now to sixth-graders but is being prepared for sixth through eighth grades. The plaintiffs are also asking for a court approved "constitutionally adequate facilities plan for the LRSD," and a stop to "unconstitutional policies and practices" in other areas of the district's operation, including the school attendance zones.

"This relief will ensure Plaintiffs have just as much of a chance to succeed academically as their white counterparts," the Doe attorneys told Marshall in a recent court filing.

Poore, the superintendent, is defended in the lawsuit by Chris Heller and Khayyam Eddings of the Friday, Eldredge & Clark law firm, which represented the district in an earlier federal school desegregation lawsuit. That now 34-year-old suit -- also involving the Pulaski County Special and North Little Rock school systems, the state and black students known as the Joshua intervenors -- is ongoing, but the Little Rock district is no longer an active party. Marshall is the presiding judge in both cases.

Key is represented in the Doe lawsuit by staff in the Arkansas attorney general's office.

Attorneys for Little Rock district and state education leaders are asking Marshall for a summary judgment against the plaintiffs, which if granted would eliminate the need to hold the July trial.

"Facts? Proof? Plaintiffs were required to come forward with specific facts showing that LRSD has engaged in systemic, intentional race discrimination," attorneys for the Little Rock district wrote to the judge last week in response to the Doe charges of unconstitutional practices.

"They were required to produce specific facts showing that LRSD's leaders chose a discriminatory course of action at least in part because of, not merely in spite of, its adverse effects on ... African-American children," the school district attorneys continued. "They were required to prove that race discrimination is the policy or custom of the school board. They haven't done it."

Heller and Eddings cited an earlier legal decision that concluded that "discriminatory effects alone are not sufficient to show discriminatory intentions."

The school district attorneys told to the judge that the plaintiffs based their arguments on court decisions from the 1970s that arose from highly segregated school districts. The Little Rock district has no virtually one-race schools, they wrote, arguing that those older cases are factually and legally dissimilar to the current case.

"Even schools which plaintiffs say are operated to 'privilege' white students (e.g. Central, Parkview, Pinnacle View and Forest Heights STEM) educate more black students than white students," they wrote.

Pinnacle View Middle School, 5701 Ranch Road, for example, had 222 students in this just-ending school year, 91 of whom were white, or 41 percent. The district overall is about 18 percent white and 65 percent black, with the remaining 17 percent being made up of students who are of Hispanic and Asian descent or are of more than one race.

Several of the district schools that do have above-average white enrollments are older buildings. Before Roberts Elementary, now at 55 percent white enrollment, opened in 2010, the newest school in west Little Rock was Fulbright Elementary, now at 39 percent white enrollment, which opened in 1979.

Other schools with the highest proportions of white students are Forest Park Elementary, 73.6 percent white, built in 1924, and Jefferson Elementary, 72 percent white, built in 1950.

"Plaintiffs may not attend Roberts or Pinnacle view but other African-American students do and Plaintiffs have not shown that those schools were created for the purpose of harming, rather than helping, African-American and other students in LRSD," the Rock district's attorneys wrote.

The Doe lawyers argued to the judge that the Little Rock district has made Pinnacle View Middle School a priority over the southwest Little Rock high school project "in an attempt to privilege, recruit and retain white students." They contend that the southwest school, which is still planned to replace McClellan and J.A. Fair high schools, and Pinnacle View were to be built simultaneously -- with one waiting on the other if one had construction delays.

The middle school moved ahead when the district was able to purchase the former Leisure Arts office building and warehouse for the middle school. Meanwhile, ground has not yet been broken on district-purchased property for the new high school, which has been sidelined in part because of budgetary matters, the attorneys said. They noted that the district had expended $380,528 on the southwest school project and $34 million on Pinnacle View.

At trial, the Doe plaintiffs will rely in part on the findings of their consultant, John Poros, associate professor in the School of Architecture at Mississippi State University. Poros found that the Little Rock schools with the highest white student populations are provided higher-quality facilities than the secondary schools with the lowest white populations.

Pinnacle View Middle School and Forest Heights STEM Academy for kindergarten through eighth grades were in "excellent" and "very good" conditions, attorneys quoted from Poros' reports. Henderson Middle, which has a largely black student population, was "in need of massive renovation" and Cloverdale Middle was "the worst," with exterior walls that are failing. Central High was deemed "very well maintained," while a good part of McCellan High "should be removed and replaced," plaintiff attorneys quoted Poros as saying. Henderson, Cloverdale and McClellan have very few white students as compared with Central, Pinnacle and Forest Heights.

"We feel these plaintiffs are being mistreated, as all black kids are, by the policies of Mr. Key and the school district," Walker said Friday. "We believe it is due to their low status and their race."

Walker said the plaintiffs' list of potential witnesses to testify in what is currently set to be a four-day trial will be former Superintendents Baker Kurrus and Morris Holmes.

Heller and Eddings, the attorneys for the Little Rock district, told the judge that the plaintiffs have not pointed to any decision by Little Rock district leaders that caused direct harm to the plaintiffs, nor do they explain how they would benefit by closing Pinnacle View.

The district's attorneys also argued that nearly every allegation of race discrimination made by the plaintiffs occurred or persisted during the multiple years that the Little Rock district was led by a majority-black school board and a black superintendent. They also said the plaintiffs failed to produce evidence to support their claims that the black leaders were motivated by racism.

The Little Rock district attorney's took exception to the plaintiffs' using Kurrus' call for a racially diverse district as evidence of efforts to benefit white students.

"In a world where schools in which African-American students are in the majority can be seen as existing to 'privilege' white students, it may make sense to argue that a desire to achieve racial diversity is evidence of race discrimination," the Little Rock district attorneys wrote, and then quoted a line from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass: "'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more or less.'"

"In reality, however, nothing about Mr. Kurrus' desire to 'build coalitions across racial lines in order to achieve a racially diverse school district' is evidence of an intent to discriminate against African American students," Heller and Eddings wrote.

A Section on 05/30/2017

http://www.nwaonline.com/news/2017/may/30/schools-edifices-face-trial-20170530

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Charter School Families Vote Too

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The next time an elected official or candidate for public office thinks it politically expedient to bash the choices of parents/families regarding where or how they choose to educate their children, consider these numbers in Little Rock alone:

  • 4,076 students are enrolled in open-enrollment public charter schools in the Little Rock School District footprint.
  • If enrollment of each unique, autonomous charter school were combined, it would rank as the 23rd largest district in Arkansas - between Searcy and Jacksonville.
  • 2,221 (55%) charter students are African-American.
  • 636 (16%) charter students are Hispanic.
  • Only 894 (22%) of 4,076 charter students are White.
  • Only two public schools in the LRSD footprint have zero White students. Both are charter schools.
  • Only two public schools in the LRSD footprint are 70% or more White. Both are LRSD schools.

And in Pulaski County:

  • Nearly one in three resident K-12 students are not educated in traditional public schools.
  • Approximately 15,050 (21.5%) of the school age population (est. 70,000) are in private/independent schools (18.5%) or home school (3%).
  • The annual savings to the state not to educate 21.5% of students in Pulaski County is $100,835,000.

There are those who believe all students should attend only schools provided by school districts. And there are those who believe how and where a student is educated is best decided by parents/guardians. The latter value all choices - traditional, charter, private/independent, home. The former scorn any choice not traditional.

Some politicians may hate choice and/or pander to those who do, but they should consider the consequences of vilifying where an increasing number of their constituents choose to educate their children.

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Building Level Finance Provides Fiscal Transparency

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Per pupil funding. It's how the state determines the amount of state dollars going to the public school districts and open-enrollment public charter schools of Arkansas.

Because of the Lakeview decision, there is not a finite annual pool money that is divided among public schools. But rather, an "adequate" per pupil amount - State Foundation Funding - is determined each year by the Legislature then distributed to districts and charters based on enrollment.

Each district is required to send to the state revenue from its first 25 mills. This Uniform Rate of Taxation (URT) is then distributed equally, on a per pupil basis, throughout the state. Districts send the same amount to the state no matter the number of charters in their respective footprints.

Local property tax revenue above the 25 mills remains solely with the respective public school districts, regardless of enrollment. Charters receive none of this money.

But what about per pupil spending? Those macro numbers are annually reported to the state by the school districts and charters. While those numbers provide a glimpse into what a district/charter cumulatively spends on students, in districts with more than one elementary, middle/junior high and/or high school, a per pupil/per building spend would provide a much more accurate picture of a district's stewardship of public resources.

To inform its decisions regarding closing and/or building/refurbishing schools, the Little Rock School District examined its per pupil/per building spend.

School  Enrollment  Utilization
of Capacity 
Per Pupil Spend 
Elementary      
Bale  385  81% $8,101
Baseline 296 93% $14,545
Booker 462 73% $8,607
Brady 426  89% $7,419
Carver 293 46% $9,816
Chicot 755 86% $6,980
Dodd 324 110% $7,814
Forest Park 465 114% $7,044
Franklin 269 49% $10,006
Fulbright 632 133% $7,208
Gibbs 306 83% $9,351
Jefferson 401 89% $8,967
King 430 63% $9,065
Mabelvale Elem. 490 90% $7,113
McDermott 360 94% $8,832
Meadowcliff 355 92% $7,637
Otter Creek 489 108% $6,819
Pulaski Heights Elem. 304 94% $8,097
Roberts 885 83% $6,899
Rockefeller 442 81% $9,501
Romine 260 48% $9,940
Stephens 375 52% $9,164
Terry 440 102% $8,173
Wakefield 549 105% $6,456
Washington 453 48% $9,982
Watson 504 101% $7,804
Western Hills 236 65% $9,100
Williams 500 85% $7,381
Wilson 316 87% $8,822
Woodruff* 150 93% NA

     
Middle      
Cloverdale 576 66% $11,235
Dunbar 649 79% $9,586
Henderson 693 77% $9,425
Mabelvale Middle 601 81% $10,098
Mann 818 83% $8,577
Pinnacle View** 222 26% NA
       
Specialty
     
Forest Heights STEM 687 82% $8,628
Hamilton ALE 81 11% $34,278
       
High School      
Central 2,481 132% $6,850
Fair 901 86% $8,864
Hall 1,135 71% $10,371
McClellan 806 60% $10,352
Parkview 1,137 100% $8,382


*Pre-Kindergarten (Not Required)
**Grade 6 Only (Grade 7 - 2017, Grade 8 - 2018)

Spending per student in the district varies wildly, from a low of $6,456 per student at Wakefield Elementary to a high of $34,278 at Hamilton. 

The newest fully utilized school in the district - Roberts - has the second lowest per pupil spend and the largest enrollment of any elementary school.

It's often said that State Foundation Funding is not a spending matrix, but a funding matrix. The increased transparency of building level financial data would serve the taxpayers of Arkansas well.

For a complete breakdown of data regarding each Little Rock School District building, see the attachment.

 Attached Files:

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On 'Taking' LRSD Students, 'New' Boards

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Public School Enrollment

   LRSD  PCSSD   NLRSD  Conway  Bryant Benton  LISA  eStem 

 2004

 24,424   17,961  9,110  8,442  6,598  4,254   163  0
 2005  25,095 (+671)  17,943 (-18)  9,368 (+258)  8,618 (+176)  6,851 (+253)  4,409 (+155)  299 (+136)  0
 2006  25,500 (+405)  17,756 (-187)  9,334 (-34)  8,774 (+156)  6,862 (+11)  4,591 (+182)  359 (+60)  0
 2007  25,738 (+238)  17,395 (-361)  8,974 (-360)  9,002 (+228)  7,163 (+301)  4,506 (-85)  411 (+52)  0
 2008  24,660 (-1,079)  17,410 (-15)  8,970 (-4)  9,144 (+142)  7,383 (+220)  4,527 (+21)  433 (+22)  755
 2009   24,380 (-280)  17,126 (-284)  9,119 (+149)  9,083 (-61)  7,669 (+286)  4,587 (+60)  465 (+32)  931 (+176)
 2010  24,226 (-154)  16,828 (-298)  8,862 (-257)  9,256 (+173)  7,949 (+280)  4,666 (+79)  476 (+11)  1,231 (+300)
 2011  24,049 (-177)  16,959 (+131)  8,545 (-317)  9,432 (+176)  8,291 (+342)  4,618 (-48)  599 (+123)  1,457 (+226)
 2012  23,594 (-455)  17,245 (+286)  8,610 (+65)  9,630 (+192)  8,620 (+329)  4,768 (+150)  792 (+193)  1,485 (+28)
 2013  23,676 (-82)  17,060 (-185)  8,553 (-57)  9,733 (+103)  8,862 (+242)  4,922 (+154)  799 (+7)  1,462 (-23)
 2014  23,363 (-313)  16,592 (-468)  8,576 (+22)  9,771 (+38)  9,017 (+155)  5,000 (+78)  797 (-2)  1,462 (0)
 2015  23,164 (-199)  16,562 (-30)  8,413 (-163)  9,734 (-37)  8,969 (-48)  5,045 (+45)  825 (+28)  1,462 (0)
 2016   22,759 (-405)  12,199/3,927 (-436)  8,405 (-8)  9,920 (+186)  9,134 (+165)  5,108 (+63)  1,261 (+436)  1,462 (0)
 13 Year Totals  -1,665 (-6.8%)  -1,835 (-10.2%)  -705 (-7.7%)  +1,478 (+17.5%)  +2,536 (+38.4%)  +854 (+20.1%)  +1,261  +1,462


Assessment

Over a thirteen-year period, the Little Rock School District (LRSD) "lost" a total of 1,665 students (-6.8%). In the same period, the Pulaski County Special School District (PCSSD) lost more students (-1,835) and a higher percentage of enrollment (-10.2%).

Meanwhile, neighboring districts in contiguous counties all experienced double digit percentage growth, led by Bryant's +2,536 students (+38.4%).

The combined enrollment of the Conway, Bryant and Benton School Districts was 24,162 in 2016. The combined enrollment of the Little Rock, North Little Rock (NLRSD), Pulaski County Special and Jacksonville/North Pulaski (JNPSD) School Districts was 47,290.

However, Conway, Bryant and Benton grew by 4,868 students (+25.2%), while LRSD, NLRSD, PCSSD and JNPSD lost 4,205 students (-8.2%). It is estimated that over 100,000 people who work in Pulaski County live in another county.

The largest open-enrollment public charter schools in the LRSD footprint, LISA Academy and eStem Public Charter Schools, enrolled students from all Pulaski County districts, as well as students from contiguous counties. They also attracted students from private and home schools. Those charters alone grew by 2,823 students over a ten year period. However, because of enrollment caps, eStem has not grown since 2011. With its Chenal expansion, LISA Academy grew by 436 students in 2016.

The biggest drop in enrollment in LRSD (-1,079) came between the 2007-08 and 2008-09 school years. That is also the period when Superintendent Roy Brooks was fired.

In Pulaski County, 68% of students are in traditional public schools, 18.5% are in private/independent schools, 10.5% are in open-enrollment public charter schools, and 3% are home schooled.

State foundation funding (approximately $6,700 per student) follows students to their public school district or charter school of choice. School districts, however, retain 100% of local property tax revenue dedicated to public schools.

Students who move from or never move to a school district, utilize Inter-district School Choice, attend private/independent schools, or are home schooled have the same fiscal impact on their resident school districts. Those who attend their resident school district's schools then choose an open-enrollment public charter school have a lessened fiscal impact because their resident district retains their respective State foundation funding for 1.5 years following the students' departure from the district.

In other words, the districts retain 100% of the State (and local) funding without the expense of educating the student.

New Board?

Those opposed to State intervention in LRSD and now aligned against the millage extension for new, refurbished facilities have lamented that the "new" board was not given a chance before it was dismissed. What they don't explain is that with seven elected zones and staggered terms, there was essentially a "new" board every year. Throw in five superintendents in eleven years (25 in 34), and there was constant "new" governance in the district.

Year  Super. Board
Zone 1
Board
Zone 2
Board
Zone 3
Board
Zone 4
Board
Zone 5
Board
Zone 6
Board
Zone 7

2004

Roy
Brooks
Katherine Mitchell *Robert Daugherty  Bryan
Day
Baker Kurrus Larry
Berkley
Tony
Rose
Sue Strickland
2005
Roy
Brooks
Katherine Mitchell Robert
Daugherty
Bryan
Day
Baker Kurrus Larry
Berkley
Tony
Rose
Sue Strickland
2006
Roy
Brooks
Katherine Mitchell Robert
Daugherty
*Melanie Fox  Baker Kurrus Larry
Berkley
*Charles Armstrong *Dianne
Curry 
2007 Roy
Brooks
Katherine Mitchell Robert
Daugherty
Melanie
Fox
Baker Kurrus Larry
Berkley
Charles Armstrong Dianne
Curry
2008
Linda
Watson
Katherine Mitchell Robert
Daugherty
Melanie
Fox
Baker Kurrus *Jody Carreiro Charles Armstrong Diane
Curry
2009
Linda
Watson
Katherine Mitchell Robert
Daugherty
Melanie
Fox
Baker Kurrus Jody
Carreiro
Charles Armstrong Dianne
Curry
2010
Linda Watson/
Morris Holmes
Katherine Mitchell Mike
Nellums
Melanie
Fox
*Greg Adams Jody
Carreiro
*Tommy
Branch, Jr.
Dianne
Curry
2011
Morris
Holmes
*Norma
Johnson

Mike
Nellums

Melanie
Fox
Greg
Adams
Jody
Carreiro
Tommy
Branch, Jr.
Dianne
Curry
2012
Morris Holmes/
Marvin
Burton
Norma
Johnson 
Mike
Nellums
*Leslie Fisken Greg
Adams
Jody
Carreiro
Tommy
Branch, Jr.
Dianne
Curry
2013
Dexter
Suggs
Norma
Johnson
*C.E.
McAdoo
Leslie
Fisken
Greg
Adams
Jody
Carreiro
*Tara
Shephard
Dianne
Curry
2014
Dexter
Suggs
*Joy
Springer 
C.E.
McAdoo 
Leslie
Fisken
Greg
Adams
*Jim
Ross
Tara
Shephard
Dianne
Curry
2015 Baker
Kurrus
             
2016 Mike
Poore
             

 *New

Assessment

Of the seven superintendents in eleven years, six were not retained. Four, all African-American, were not retained by the local boards.

From 2004 to 2014, every year was a "new" board except 2009, 2007 and 2005. The most "new" members (3) were in 2006. There were at least two "new" members four times in eleven years, including the board that was dismissed.

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West Little Rock: Swing Voters on LRSD's Future

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Updated: Friday, April 7, 2017

The greatest strategic mistake the status quo ever made was ignoring the fervent desire of West Little Rock students and families to become and remain a valued part of their Little Rock School District.

At the time of the district's 2000 millage increase campaign, there were only two LRSD schools west of I-430 and north of Chenal, and both were elementary schools - Fulbright and Terry. So, as an inducement to support the millage increase, West Little Rock families were promised a new Grades K-8 school.

Ten years later, Dr. Don R. Roberts Elementary opened, but as a Pre-K-5, albeit the largest elementary school in the district. And the words "West Little Rock Middle School" were never to be spoken by anyone in authority.

Soon after opening, the demand for Roberts was so strong, the elected board cancelled Pre-K to free seats for K-5. Despite presenting several options for the elected board to preserve Pre-K, once again, the needs and desires of West Little Rock families were ignored, and over 100 West Little Rock Pre-K seats disappeared.

Because West Little Rock's elected board member and his colleagues refused to acknowledge the need for a middle school, West Little Rock parents initiated a Grades 6-12 open-enrollment public charter school.

The elected board hastily bought land on Katillus Road to demonstrate movement, and launched a ferocious, public attack on the charter application and its supporters.

The district lost.

Despite assurances made, under oath and preserved on video and in transcript, by its representatives fighting the charter, the elected board did nothing to build the promised middle school.

In 2014, the elected board finally voted to build a West Little Rock Middle School concurrently with a Little Rock Southwest High School. However, both projects' construction was mandated to be completely synchronized, despite the increased cost, and both were contingent upon the success of an unscheduled millage increase election.

In 2015, with 3/5 of the district's high schools and 1/3 of its middle schools in Academic Distress, including both secondary schools zoned for West Little Rock, many parents supported the State's intervention in the district and removal of the elected board. Having just one Academic Distress school may trigger State takeover.

Then, when the Leisure Arts building became available at a fraction of the cost of building a new school, it was West Little Rock parents who launched the campaign which resulted in the purchase and repurposing of the 245,000 square foot facility into Pinnacle View Middle School.

Former elected board members Jim Ross and Joy Springer and their attorney, John Walker, sued to stop it and all new West Little Rock public schools in federal court.

They lost.

With elementary feeder schools of Fulbright, Terry and Roberts, U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall, Jr. hailed Pinnacle View as the "mosaic to which we have all aspired" and the potential rebirth of the district.

Pinnacle View opened as a sixth grade in 2016, and by 2018 will host 1,200 6-8 students as the largest middle school in the district.

Then what?

The State of Arkansas has the constitutional responsibility for public education in the state. It delegates that authority to public school districts and open-enrollment charters. When either of those fail, the State must intervene and reassert its responsibility.

LRSD has had 24 superintendents in 35 years and averaged nearly two new board members a year. The state's governance is simply the latest and most stable in generations. Finally, the district has the opportunity to trend in a positive direction for the students, families and citizens of Little Rock.

Under the leadership of Superintendent Michael Poore, the district's Community Advisory Board, and State Department of Education Commissioner Johnny Key, the district proposes to refinance and extend the term of its current debt service bonds. Without raising taxes, this will generate $160,000,000 to build the promised Little Rock Southwest High School and make capital improvements at every other school in the district.

Many opposed to the State's intervention in Little Rock oppose the millage extension. Others are on the fence, weighing the value of immediate facilities for students against who is, or is not, in control of the district.

Once again, it is time for West Little Rock families to buck the status quo, step up and lead. We saved the district millions by buying and refurbishing an existing building, which retained and attracted students. We can build a new Little Rock Southwest High School and improve every school in the district by refinancing our debt and finally begin using more of our 12 debt service mills as voters intended. The previous elected boards had used eight of those twelve debt service mills not for facilities, but for operations.

Conventional wisdom says West Little Rock won't vote YES in any millage election, even one that doesn't raise taxes. But "conventional wisdom" is what got the district into the condition it was in prior to State intervention. And "conventional wisdom" is what allowed West Little Rock to be ignored and neglected for decades.

While leaders waffle and refuse to counter the lies and conspiracies fomented by a loud, but increasingly irrelevant and shrinking fringe, LRSD facilities crumble or are nonexistent.

The most famous high school in America, which celebrates the sixtieth anniversary of its integration in the fall, is two-thirds over capacity, holds class in portables, and has locker rooms so abysmal, visiting athletic teams have had to change clothes in their buses. In the fall, the world will be watching again. What will it think about what it sees?

In 2000, the elected board made promises to West Little Rock it and subsequent boards did not keep. In 2017, the only promise made is that all students, families and citizens of the Little Rock School School District, no matter their culture, economic status or ZIP Code, will finally be equally valued.

History calls, West Little Rock. In a referendum on the best interests of students over the self interests of adults, vote FOR on May 9th. And follow, participate in the campaign at Facebook.com/RebuildLRSchools.

 

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Judge Marshall Grants State's Motion, Dismisses all Springer/Ross/Walker Claims Against State Board, Commissioner, ADE re: Takeover of LRSD

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Read Full Order 

Quick highlights... 

"...discriminatory effects alone are insufficient to show discriminatory intentions." (pp. 2-3)

"What's missing are pleaded facts that show the intent to discriminate based on race, facts that show foul thoughts becoming harmful actions." (p. 3)

Letting a doubtful case proceed is often the better course, but not where the governing law is clear and all the facts simply do not measure up." (p. 3)

Pages 4-17 recites the allegations.

Page 17, Judge Marshall says "The Plaintiffs haven't plausibly alleged that the State allowed more charters, mismanaged federal funds, or took over LRSD II for the purpose of discriminating on account of race[.]" They haven't plausibly shown enough to warrant a full hearing and discovery. He references the 1982 deseg case to show how going into hearing/discovery could cost millions and take decades.

(In other words, he's sniffed out that John Walker is trying to start this whole thing over again.)

Page 20, Judge Marshall says that math explains a lot of what Walker is saying is discriminatory intent.

Page 21, Judge Marshall says takeover could easily be explained as "a group of citizens with strong policy views - less public involvement and more private control - wanting a turn at putting their views into practice.

Page 23, "The takeover wasn't graceful or perfect. Bureaucracies always lumber along. But the deviations Plaintiffs raise don't make a racial motive plausible. The Board seems to have followed the proper administrative course, for example, in passing emergency regulations and following up with final ones."

Page 25, "Former LRSD board members Springer and Ross allege that the State Board violated their due process rights by taking away their school board seats. NQ 6 at 65. But they had no legitimate claim of entitlement to them in the face of Ark. Code Ann.§ 6-15-430(a)(3) & (b)(9), which made the seats subject to a State takeover."

Mentions Kurrus firing on page 29.

 Attached Files:

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Little Rock Area Public School Stakeholder Group: Mission Creep Part II?

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Saturday, June 25, 2016
Updated: Saturday, June 25, 2016

On January 28, 2015, in the same passed motion which replaced the Little Rock School Board with the Commissioner of Education, the State Board of Education, upon an amendment by Jay Barth, called for "...a formal body of parents, students, community and business leaders, reflective of the Little Rock community and philanthropic organizations (to) serve as a Civic Advisory Committee to aid in improving the performance of students in all schools."

It didn't.

Instead, the 34-member group, appointed solely by Little Rock Legislators and LRSD superintendents, chose to spend its time, energy and platform fighting future and past decisions of elected and appointed State government.

Then...

"On April 14, 2016 Dr. Barth moved, seconded by Ms. Reith, that the Arkansas Department of Education will facilitate the engagement of a research facilitator to review the issues below, with the goal of producing non-binding recommendations that aid the board’s decision-making, inform communication among all stakeholders, and identify opportunities for collaboration and coordination among charter schools and traditional schools. The recommendations should lay the groundwork for a multi function model that can be adapted for use in other areas of the state.

"Before selecting a facilitator, a small (5-7 person) stakeholder group of individuals that represent traditional public schools, open-enrollment charter schools, and the Little Rock community, as a whole shall be formed. The group shall be selected by the Chair of the State Board of Education and the Commissioner based upon recommendations from charter leaders in Pulaski County south of the river, superintendents of the Pulaski County school districts south of the river, State Board of Education members, members of the General Assembly representing Pulaski County south of the river, and city officials south of the river. The stakeholder group should 1) identify data questions; 2) define key terms; and 3) set measurement parameters that must be addressed by the research facilitator in addressing the issues below. The stakeholder group, in collaboration with ADE, should select the research group. The ADE should engage the Office of Innovation for Education to act as a liaison between the research facilitator and the stakeholder group to provide data-informed recommendations. The recommendations shall be non-binding.

"The issues to be addressed by the research facilitators are the following:

  • How every student can have access to a school that is achieving;
  • How schools can best meet the educational needs of a student population markedly diverse in terms of income levels, achievement levels, English language learners, and students with disabilities;
  • How to be most cost effective and fiscally efficient in the delivery of education;
  • How to respond to patterns that students with certain characteristics (in terms of achievement levels, demographics, etc.) are more likely, at present, to seek out open-enrollment charter options;
  • How facilities should be modernized and spread across the area based on the current demographics of the area with an eye to future demographic patterns;
  • How collaboration between traditional public schools and open-enrollment charter educational offerings can maximize the achievement of students and fiscal efficiency of the system of public education south of the river.

"A quarterly report should be provided to the State Board regarding the status of the efforts outlined in this motion. The first quarterly report should reflect the ADE and Office of Innovation for Education’s recommendations on how to
proceed with the study outlined above, including a projected timeline for completion.

"Ms. Zook, Mr. Williams, and Ms. Dean voted no. The final vote was 5-3. The motion carried."

The fourth bullet above presupposes facts that are not supported. The sixth bullet should read "among," not "between," as two traditional school districts and eight open-enrollment public charter schools account for nearly sixty public schools south of the river, where 2/3 of the traditional high schools are in Academic Distress.

In its first meeting (June 6, 2016), the newly appointed seven-member group voted to invite the superintendents of the Little Rock and Pulaski County Special School Districts and the directors of the eight open-enrollment public charter schools to share their perceptions at the group's next (June 29, 2016) meeting.

In advance of his appearance, the outgoing Little Rock School District superintendent chose to send his March 31, 2016 State Board of Education submission opposing the expansions of eStem Public Charter Schools and LISA Academy. His "new" cover letter offered nothing about the district for which he has been responsible for the past year, but was just another diatribe against public schools not in his control.

So much for collaboration.

In a footnoted response, Arkansas Learns has previously refuted most of the superintendent's arguments against the charters.

In his advance written response, the Pulaski County Special School District superintendent took a more expansive view of public education in general. His one-page, nine point response, however, also had the requisite swipe at charter schools:

"5. I believe there are at present three major failings in school structure that prevent the State from fulfilling its responsibility.

"6. The first is publically (sic) funded charter schools. I agree with Baker Kurrus. It is impossible for the State to fund two parallel school systems which by their nature will segregate students into two groups — one group with the most difficult to educate; the other with the students easiest to educate."

The superintendent neglected, however, to mention his continued exemption from School Choice, which limits enrollment to residence, denying LRSD resident students entry and PCSSD resident students exit. The only public school choice available in PCSSD is open-enrollment public charter schools.

While both superintendents rail against "dual education systems" in regard to charters, they are silent in regard to the culpability of their traditional districts:

  • Multi-family residents who live adjacent to Roberts Elementary are denied entry solely because they live in the Pulaski County Special School District;
  • Both LRSD and PCSSD are building/converting two traditional middle schools 2.5 miles apart;
  • New LRSD Middle School students will be double the distance to their zoned high school (Hall) than to their nearest high school (Robinson).

One meeting in, and the Little Rock Area Public School Stakeholder Group is at a crossroads. It can stay true to its original mission and become relevant, perhaps even significant. Or, it can follow the example of the LRSD Civic Advisory Committee and chase the charter bogeymen proffered by superintendents unwilling or unable to collaborate in the best interests of students.

"The stakeholder group should:

  1. identify data questions;
  2. define key terms; and
  3. set measurement parameters that must be addressed by the research facilitator in addressing the issues below (above).

"The stakeholder group, in collaboration with ADE, should select the research group."

It's difficult to see how inviting district and charter leaders to share their "perceptions" with the group advances what it was created to do. Let's hope this will be a brief courtesy detour, and the group will get back and stay on track in its next and future gatherings.

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Arkansas Public School Finance 101

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Sunday, May 8, 2016
Updated: Monday, May 9, 2016

Every school district in Arkansas is required to send to the State 25 mills, the Uniform Rate of Taxation (URT).

Districts retain 100% of local property tax revenue dedicated to public education above 25 mills.

Based on Average Daily Attendance (ADA), the State sends to each district and open-enrollment public charter school, per pupil Foundation funding (currently $6,584 per student).

In 2014-15, Little Rock School District's 46.4 mills (seventh highest in Arkansas) on assessed valuation of $3,453,638,341 (highest in Arkansas) generated $153,257,140 in local property tax revenue dedicated to education (highest in Arkansas).

Subtracting the 25 mill URT sent to the State ($82,573,890), LRSD retained 100% of remaining property tax revenue dedicated to public education - $68,751,824 - whether it had one student or 100,000.

If a district "loses" a student to an open-enrollment charter school, it still receives 100% State Foundation funding for the next 1.5 years.

When a student is truant, moves, transfers through inter-district school choice, chooses an open-enrollment public charter school, chooses a private school, and/or chooses home school, the maximum, in current dollars, any school district loses in State Foundation funding is $6,584 per student. Meanwhile, it retains 100% of local funds without the expense of educating the student. Therefore, per pupil spending goes up with each student lost.

Additional state, federal funds accompany specific student demographics, such as Gifted and Talented, Alternative Learning Environment, Free and Reduced Lunch, English Language Learners, and Special Education students.

A $63 per pupil increase in State Foundation funding ($1,459,332) and $3,547,990 increase in local property tax revenue totaled a $5,007,322 gain to the district in 2015-16.

When projected enrollment caps are reached in eleven years for the latest eStem Public Charter Schools and LISA Academy expansions, the total annual loss to the district is projected be 1,139 students, $7,499,176 in current annual Foundation dollars.

In other words, 120 proposed new Little Rock Preparatory Academy students, even if 100% came from LRSD, would not equal $1,000,000 annual loss to the LRSD, as one publication has repeatedly quoted the superintendent as saying. Rather, it would be a maximum of $790,080, 21% less. And no charter school in Arkansas, including Little Rock Preparatory Academy, receives 100% of its students from one district.

It continues to be claimed that the recently approved eStem Public Charter Schools and LISA Academy expansions will amount to an annual "loss" to the LRSD of $19,633,488 in State Foundation funding.

Only 54% and 53% of eStem and LISA's current respective enrollment resides in the LRSD, and only 71% of students in Pulaski County attend traditional schools. Therefore, a more accurate projection of State Foundation funding "loss" to LRSD is $7,499,176 a year in current dollars. Once total new enrollment reaches its cap after 11 years, that's a difference between what is claimed and what is actually projected of 62%.

2014-15 Financial Database for Districts

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One Year Later, LRSD Civic Advisory Committee Neglects Singular Purpose

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Friday, April 29, 2016
Updated: Sunday, May 1, 2016

On January 28, 2015, in the same passed motion which replaced the Little Rock School Board with the Commissioner of Education, the State Board of Education called for "...a formal body of parents, students, community and business leaders, reflective of the Little Rock community and philanthropic organizations (to) serve as a Civic Advisory Committee to aid in improving the performance of students in all schools." No more; no less.

The previous Commissioner of Education delegated his authority to appoint the committee to Little Rock Legislators, who after over eighty applications, chose a member for each of LRSD's seven board zones, including a removed board member, Joy Springer, who is now suing the Superintendent, Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner, and State Board of Education in federal court. Legislators also appointed two non-profit organization representatives. The then-superintendent appointed two students and two teachers from each of the six Academic Distress Schools. After Baker Kurrus was named superintendent, he appointed removed LRSD Board President Greg Adams to serve as Co-Chairman along with Zone 4 Member Dionne Jackson, for a total of 34 members.

In the Committee's year of service it has 1) opposed the expansions of eStem Public Charter Schools and LISA Academy, 2) opposed $3,000,000 private investment to bring Teach for America teachers into district, 3) called upon the Governor to replace Commissioner Johnny Key, 4) called upon the State Board of Education to return the district to return local governance to the Little Rock School District following School Board elections September 20, 2016, and 5) called for a freeze on charters and waivers within Pulaski County until local control is granted.

The Committee's sole purpose was "to aid in improving the performance of students in all schools." And yet, it chooses to spend its time, energy and platform fighting future and past decisions of elected and appointed State government.

After a year of retreats and committee/sub-committee meetings and reports to the State Board, I challenge any member of the committee, including two members of the City of Little Rock Board of Directors, to name one way in which the committee has aided in improving the performance of any student in any school.

The appointment of the seven-member LRSD Advisory Board, prescribed by law and rule, cannot come soon enough.

Minutes, State Board of Education Meeting, Thursday, January 28, 2016

LRSD Civic Advisory Committee, June 4, 2015

LRSD Civic Advisory Committee - Retreat Summary, September 19, 2015

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Missed Little Rock Rally Opportunities

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Updated: Wednesday, April 27, 2016

If student learning was the priority of all residents and leaders of the Little Rock School District and City of Little Rock, perhaps one or more of the previous Arkansas Department of Education announcements would have warranted a public rally.

2016

Five (5) LRSD Schools Still in Academic Distress (2013-15 Three-year Average of Less Than 49.5% Proficient)

2015

Five (5) LRSD Schools Still in Academic Distress (2013-2015 Three-year Average of Less Than 49.5% Proficient)

Eight (8) LRSD Schools Named Priority Schools (Lowest Performing 5% in Arkansas)

Fifteen (15) LRSD Schools Named Focus Schools (Lowest Performing 6-10% in Arkansas)

Eight (8) LRSD Schools Receive an 'F' on State's First A-F School Report Card.  

Twenty-three (23) of the districts 42 tested schools performed in the bottom 10% in the State.

2014

Six (6) LRSD Schools Named in Academic Distress (2012-2014 Three-year Average of 49.5% or Less Proficient)

Seven (7) LRSD Schools Still Priority Schools (Lowest Performing 5% in Arkansas)

Nine (9) LRSD Schools Still Focus Schools (Lowest Performing 6-10% in Arkansas)

Sixteen (16) of the district's 42 tested schools performed in the bottom 10% in the State.

2013

Six (6) LRSD Named in Academic Distress (2011-2013 Three-year Average of 49.5% or Less Proficient)

Seven (7) LRSD Schools Still Priority Schools (Lowest Performing 5% in Arkansas)

Nine (9) LRSD Schools Still Focus Schools (Lowest Performing 6-10% in Arkansas)

Sixteen (16) of the district's 42 tested schools performed in the bottom 10% in the State.

2012

Seven (7) LRSD Schools Still Priority Schools (Lowest Performing 5% in Arkansas)

Nine (9) LRSD Schools Still Focus Schools (Lowest Performing 6-10% in Arkansas)

Sixteen (16) of the district's 42 tested schools performed in the bottom 10% in the State.

2011

Eight (8) LRSD Schools Named Priority Schools (Lowest Performing 5% in Arkanas)

Ten (10) LRSD Schools Named Focus Schools (Lowest Performing 6-10% in Arkansas) 

Eighteen (18) of the district's 42 tested schools performed in the bottom 10% in the State.

 

Schools could not be added to the federally required 2011 Focus and Priority lists; they could only emerge. In four years, only two LRSD schools did, but one of those returned on the new list in 2015, along with six additional schools, totaling more than half of those tested.

And yet, there were no petitions, no resolutions...no rallies.

When the non-proficiency of a student becomes a greater catalyst for outrage and action than the non-renewal of an adult, Little Rock and her people will finally move to the right side of history.

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