Today's Paper Search Latest Coronavirus Families Core values App Listen Story ideas iPad Weather Newsletters Obits Puzzles Archive

As a unity-championing candidate, Mayor Frank Scott drew overwhelming support from the historically disadvantaged minority neighborhoods of Little Rock south of Interstate 630, where he lives.

It's the area containing the eight Little Rock public schools that have received "F" grades in recent assessments. Those are the schools that the state Board of Education proposes to separate from the rest of the Little Rock School District, which otherwise would be returned to local control next year after five years of idling state takeover.

Little Rock public school advocates resent this plan, which they call re-segregation of Little Rock public education. Basically, better-off neighborhoods could govern themselves, and poor minority neighborhoods couldn't.

But Scott, as that unity-professing mayoral candidate, also has business ties as a banker and aide to business-friendly former Gov. Mike Beebe. He enjoyed support during his campaign from business leaders who like continued state control and unspecified separate management of those failing schools.

When I remarked to Scott the other day that unity could be a double-edged sword--that real issues can divide tenuously unified parties--he said that, yes, that was true, "but I was elected to lead."

So, on Monday, he gathered as many city board members as were in town and able to attend. Five of the 10 joined him, from the most liberal to the near-most conservative.

In his and their behalf, Scott announced the city government's public-school plan--and thus sent a message, or made a plea, to the state Board of Education.

The state board will meet Thursday to decide whether to stick with blowing up the school district and busting the teacher union. We're at the brink.

Basically, Scott is asking Gov. Asa Hutchinson, state education commissioner Johnny Key and the members of the state board--in that order--to stop and consider that angry disruption is not the way to go, but that a strong and focused partnership is.

"We're never going to be the economic revitalization engine that we want Little Rock to become until we fix education," Scott told me, meaning that the state board's plan wasn't going to fix it.

"People are leaving Little Rock because of education because they don't want to pay twice--property taxes for public schools and tuition for private schools," he said. "It's the city's responsibility to address that if we want Little Rock to be the great city it can be."

He has been in touch with Hutchinson, Key and a couple of state board members to tell them of his proposal. He gets along with all of them. He once said history would record Hutchinson as a great governor, which is true enough except that blowing up the Little Rock school district might besmirch that legacy.

Hutchinson, Key and the board members listened and were noncommittal, Scott told me. On Monday, he described them as "intrigued."

Here is what he lays out generally: All city schools would be singularly returned to local control next year. The school district, the city government and the state government would form a partnership to establish "community schools" in those failing areas that would have longer school days and myriad support services.

He said the city would agree to reallocate community-support money now being spent in disparate ways to providing services to children, parents and neighborhoods that would be run through those schools.

He said the city would hire a chief education officer by January. He proposed a transitional school board next year of an undefined appointment process with state and local input. He said the transitional board would make no "consequential policy decisions," saving those for the new locally elected board chosen in November 2020.

All of that would be covered in a "memorandum of understanding," he said.

Whether to de-certify the teacher union would be a consequential decision, and the teacher union contract expires at the end of October. "So they should extend it," Scott told me after his news conference.

If Arkansas is to remain a place where national political polarization and dysfunction do not apply, then a pragmatic governor would be persuaded that a fresh-starting Little Rock mayor with a unity theme has an idea worth taking a timeout to consider, at least.

Would it perhaps be better, all things considered, to back off for the time being from these fervent desires of business-minded "reformers" to remake those failing schools in a charter-ish image?

Would it perhaps be better to take a timeout from de-certifying the teacher association and inviting a strike instead of a solution?

Might it be better to pause and work on this joint venture--with the mayor and his people, the school superintendent, state education officials, local lawmakers and responsible, non-shouting local school advocates and activists, the chamber of commerce and even local charities and service organizations?

Might it be that children trapped in perpetuating cycles of disadvantage would be better served by adult cooperation rather than adult resentment?


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 10/08/2019


Sponsor Content

COMMENTS - It looks like you're using Internet Explorer, which isn't compatible with the Democrat-Gazette commenting system. You can join the discussion by using another browser, like Firefox or Google Chrome.
It looks like you're using Microsoft Edge. The Democrat-Gazette commenting system is more compatible with Firefox and Google Chrome.