State Board Takes Leadership Of Little Rock Schools

Jan 29, 2015

Little Rock School Superintendent Dexter Suggs speaks to the State Board of Education Wednesday.
Credit Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

The Arkansas State Board of Education approved a state takeover of the Little Rock School District with a five to four vote Wednesday after four hours of comments from community members overwhelmingly opposed to the takeover.

State Board member Vickie Saviers proposed the motion that leaves Superintendent Dr. Dexter Suggs in his job on an interim basis.

“We remove all the current Board of Directors of the Little Rock Board of Directors effective immediately. In the absence of the Board of Directors, I move we direct the Commissioner of Education to assume all authority of the Board of Directors," said Saviers.

During a public comment period prior to the decision dozens of community members spoke out against the takeover, saying the community is committed to working with the school board. Parkview High School Student Hannah Burdette said the school board members know the schools on the neighborhood level.

“They’re able to understand what’s going on in the community because they are a part of our community. They were elected by our community and we, as the Little Rock School Districts, our parents decided these were the people they wanted to represent us,” said Burdette.

Little Rock Resident Robert Webb told the Board a state takeover would be a destructive move.

"Why now? I think it would send a very bad message if you came over and took over this district. We have board members who have just started to serve," said Webb.

School Board president Greg Adams said board members are new to the job and shouldn’t be held accountable for the past. He said a new reading program, two reconstituted schools and the district’s success with the end of desegregation funding are accomplishments but the board needs more time.

“People have suggested we do something drastic. This would be my suggestion that we do something drastic. that would be that we quit looking for someone to blame," said Adams.

"That we don’t blame the Superintendent nor the board nor the union nor the community activists nor the business community, but that we find a way to collaborate in a partnership that we’ve never seen before to make a difference in these schools and that you continue to hold us accountable.”

Yet, Superintendent Suggs told the board he wasn’t confident the school board was up to the task of fixing the six district schools in distress.

“My comment ma’am, was not the ability to implement it was more so to sustain a plan and move in the direction we have to move in. During the past couple of meetings we’ve had it appears that everyone is on board," he said.

"We’re talking about three four five years down the road, will that same energy, that same enthusiasm be there? And I have reservations about that," added Suggs.

State Board members were divided in their comments. Member Jay Barth proposed a motion that would create a partnership between the district and the state to fix the six schools, with the ongoing option of a takeover.

Yet, state Board Chairman Sam Ledbetter cast the deciding vote for a total takeover. Vickie Saviers told the crowd a partnership between the district and the schools would add layers of complication to the process of fixing schools in academic distress.

"The same people are still there doing the same work. So, are there enough monitors in the world to make sure that work is properly done. I keep going back to the system, the system being broken," she said.

Board member Kim Davis and others expressed their sense of urgency about the takeover.

“How will I feel in one year, three years, five years from now passing those students we’ve talked about on the street, or visiting them in some unfortunate situation and realizing I had an opportunity to at least try to do something and I passed on that?”

Immediately after the Board’s decision, nearly all community members walked out of the room. Superintendent Dexter Suggs then took the podium and expressed his commitment to lead the district. A community advisory committee will be created to participate in the process and the board approved a review of the geographic boundaries of Pulaski County School Districts.

Adams said he will not participate in an effort to sue on behalf of the district.