My column this week (link corrected) is about the Little Rock School District. A too-often divided school board. A struggling superintendent. Iffy community backing. A balky teachers union.
Based on conversations I’ve had with several people — combined with the reality of tougher state enforcement of financial and academic standards — I suggest it’s time to start talking about the possibilities of a state takeover (not necessarily a bad thing) and also a reordering of school district lines in Pulaski County.
If this sounds like surrender of a 41-year district advocate and father of two children who were well-served by LRSD, it’s not. But it does reflect my strong feeling — motivated in part by the end of deseg money and other external forces — that the status quo is no longer an option. Superintendent Dexter Suggs, for one thing, must trim administrative spending, even if it means stepping on some toes. But he lacks a solid Board consensus on his efforts to do it.
I don’t mean this column as a condemnation of school leaders or skepticism about their good intentions toward kids.
The district has its optimists. They’d say the board division isn’t strictly racial in its votes, as it sometimes has been. There are plans afoot for new schools and some significant investments are planned in neglected neighborhood schools (gyms, even). The district is committed to reviving athletics. The sports de-emphasis was a product of a well-meaning attempt by a past board to emphasize academics, but it has had unintended negative consequences. There are some excellent schools and neighborhoods with satisfied parents. The Public Education Foundation, in danger of disappearing, is reportedly reorganizing. There’s a thirst in West Little Rock for schools that should create a wellspring of support for a bond issue. Suggs has resisted an administrator’s natural authoritarian urges and struck some compromises on occasion, a sign of political growth.
My column, however, is by a glass-half-empty kind of guy.
A THURSDAY PS: Channel 11 has aired a good report on inspection of the administrative budget that turns up lots of questions about padded overhead expenses and a budget that seems to run higher than those in comparable districts. Suggs wouldn’t talk to the station about the questions. If he’s only making a show of cutting expenses in some places while increasing them in others, that, too, is no way to solvency.
Again: State control is an issue worth discussing.