State Board Of Education Sets Meeting To Decide LR School Takeover

Jan 8, 2015

File photo of State Rep. John Walker speaking to reporters in November 2013.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The Arkansas State Board of Education has set a January 28th date to decide whether to take over all or part of the Little Rock School District .

Six Little Rock schools were deemed in academic distress this year by the Arkansas Department of Education allowing for a legal state takeover of the district at any time. Yet some school board members and other advocates have spoken out against a takeover.

At Thursday's meeting of the State Board of Education committee on academic distress, civil rights attorney John Walker told board members that Superintendent Dexter Suggs has been unresponsive to new school board members because they want to focus on schools with the greatest need, instead of building new schools in west little rock, a primarily white area.

Leslie Fisken recently wrote a letter to State Board of Education member Vickie Saviers, calling the LRSD board dysfunctional. Fisken has declined to comment to KUAR about the matter.

Walker, a state representative and longtime school desegregation advocate, said this was a point of conflict between board member Leslie Fisken and others.

“Because the new and former board majority rushed to develop new schools in the west, there is an attempt to persuade you that the board is dysfunctional. Refer to Ms. Fisken’s criticism that the board does not to address a millage for new construction. The present board has stated that the primary focus should be on the schools in greatest need,” Walker said.

School board member Diane Curry told the committee she found Superintendent Suggs uncooperative.

“The understanding [was] that we would work together as one unit. However that one unit undoubtedly has become Dr. Suggs, who thinks the best course of action for him being a first time superintendent, [is] to make all the decisions,” said Curry.

She said that for her, the talk of a state takeover was all about race and reminded her of the 1957 desegregation conflict.

Both Representative Walker and State Sen. Joyce Elliot, both Democrats from Little Rock, questioned whether the state would effectively run the district.

“I do not see, number one, how the Department of Education is positioned to take over this district, and once the Department of Education has the district, then what," Elliot asked. "I also think, in that same vein, just as we are questioning the track record of the Little Rock School District to be successful, we must apply that same that same scrutiny to whether the Department of Education has that ability to be successful too, based on its own track record."

State Board member Diane Zook stated she would like to see a state takeover of the district as soon as possible.

“I’ve seen the Little Rock School District change superintendents, principals, use the court system, argue ideology, use racism, white flight, charters, and choice as an excuse. But we still have 25,000 children that we owe a free and appropriate education. They deserve no less. We must be bold,” Zook told the committee.

State Board member Jay Barth requested research on the possibility of a state takeover of just the six schools in academic distress, while maintaining the current school board and superintendent.

The State Board of Education will meet again on January 28th to consider what action to take.