Time for Little Rock School District Residents to Show True Colors

In case you’ve missed it, another protest is planned. The latest has been scheduled to “mourn” State takeover of the Little Rock School District by showing up at the District’s offices wearing all black between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September 16th, the anniversary of the last school board election.

Quick, what is the date of the next school election? I digress.

Little Rock School District residents typically fall into one of four camps regarding State takeover:

  • Those who supported takeover and still do
  • Those who didn’t support takeover and still don’t
  • Those who were agnostic on takeover, but now want it to work
  • Those who were agnostic on takeover, but now don’t want it to work

Sure, there may be some who were for it, but are now against it, or the other way around, but for the most part, it’s one of the four above.

We supported takeover. Still do. And yet, we don’t agree with every action (or inaction) of the appointed administration (e.g. lack of urgency on secondary schools). No matter where one stands on takeover, it’s the hand we’ve been dealt, so it is incumbent upon all adults to do our best to make it work.

To that end, rather than a wake, let’s celebrate the future of our students and district by showing up in our school colors – be they traditional, charter and/or independent – from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September 16th at the offices of the Little Rock School District (810 West Markham).

Opponents go to great pains to equate State takeover to 1957. They’re partially right. In 1957, it took a higher level of government – Federal over State – to step in to prioritize all students over adults. In 2014, it took a higher level of government – State over Local – to step in to prioritize all students over adults.

They also claim takeover is an affront to democracy even though the State Board of Education, duly appointed by a democratically-elected Governor and empowered by a democratically-elected Legislature democratically voted to exercise its democratically-granted authority.

Finally, they attempt to demonize and vilify all with whom they disagree with charges of conspiracy, profiteering and illegalities, while fomenting fear with their fallback bogeymen of “privatization,” “Chamber of Commerce,” and “Waltons.”

Under the law, one school in Academic Distress – a three-year average of less than 50% of students proficient in math and literacy – can subject an entire district to State takeover. The Little Rock School District has six (27% of the state’s total of 22), even though it only accounts for 4.9% of Arkansas’s public school enrollment. And it wasn’t just any six, but two of the six middle schools and three of the five high schools. Compounding the issue, the elementary, middle and high schools with the highest percentage of Hispanic students (Baseline, Cloverdale and Hall) are all in Academic Distress.

At the time of takeover, 15 LRSD schools were designated as Priority or Focus Schools, the lowest 10% performing schools in Arkansas. That number has since swelled to 23, over half of all LRSD schools.

Soon, the democratically-elected/appointed members of the Supreme Court will decide whether or not Plaintiffs Springer, Ross and McAdoo’s case against the State regarding takeover can move forward. Until then and after, it’s incumbent upon adults to work to ensure that whatever governance is in place is successful in educating all of our students.

In the nine years before takeover, LRSD board averaged 1.44 new board members every year. Immediate past board members averaged 277 votes each in latest races, for 1,936 total votes (Source: http://votepulaski.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3212&Itemid=123). To act as though two new board members in each of the past two school elections was a revolution is uninformed at best and manipulative at worst.

The last school board election in the State’s largest school district was in 2014 and yielded these results:

Zone 1

  • Norma Jean Johnson – 228
  • Joy Springer – 485
  • Turnout – 713 of 26,430 Registered Voters (2.7%)

Zone 5

  • Jody Carreiro – 221
  • Jim Ross – 379
  • Turnout – 600 of 31,217 Registered Voters (1.9%)

Since those still fighting takeover also claim the 2013 school board election as theirs, here are those results:

Zone 2

  • Charlie “C.E.” McAdoo – 383
  • Kenneth A. Davis – 79
  • Turnout – 462

Zone 6

  • Tommy Branch, Jr. – 113
  • Tara Shephard – 192
  • Florene Armstrong – 157
  • Turnout – 462


  • Tara Shephard – 249
  • Florene Armstrong – 161
  • Turnout- 410

Zone 4

  • Greg Adams – 36
  • Total – 36
  • Turnout – 36

The racial makeup of the board had been the same (four African-American, three White) since 2006, eight years before takeover. So why do opponents claim 2013 and 2014 as pivotal shifts on the board? The only reason I can surmise is the systematic defeat of those who voted for Dexter Suggs to become superintendent in 2013.

All incumbents in Zones 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 voted for Suggs. The lone dissent came from Zone 2’s Michael Nellums, who chose not to run for reelection.

Since the vote, the incumbents up for reelection in Zones 1, 5 and 6 were defeated in 2013 and 2014. Opponents tried to find a candidate to run against Zone 4’s Greg Adams (inexplicably, I was invited to the meeting), but failed, so he was reelected without opposition.

Ironically, the one board candidate most responsible for Suggs’ selection was not elected until 2014. Dr. Jim Ross (Zone 5) and his colleague Dr. Barclay Key conducted background research on the “inevitable” candidate – Dr. Walter Milton – which ultimately torpedoed his candidacy and paved the way for Suggs.

And what did Dexter Suggs do to warrant such treatment for those who voted for him? The previous Attorney General’s Chief of Staff credited Suggs as the catalyst behind the Desegregation Settlement Agreement. What did that settlement do? It removed the Little Rock School District from federal court supervision for the first time in decades and along with it the legal standing of an intervening attorney.

At least Mr. Walker was consistent in his opposition to Suggs, publicly and repeatedly calling for his ouster at board meetings from the beginning of his tenure. The union, on the other hand, voted “No Confidence” just four months after it joined a community consensus – parents, labor, chamber – in support of his selection.

And if you don’t believe us, ask Tommy Branch, Jr., Norma Jean Johnson and/or Jody Carreiro.

So the decision is ours. We can either mourn the past, or celebrate our future. We choose the latter, and hope you will join us. Perhaps among all of us, we’ll turn out more folks than voted in the last school board elections.

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