The greatest strategic mistake the status quo ever made was ignoring the fervent desire of West Little Rock students and families to become and remain a valued part of their Little Rock School District.
At the time of the district’s 2000 millage increase campaign, there were only two LRSD schools west of I-430 and north of Chenal, and both were elementary schools – Fulbright and Terry. So, as an inducement to support the millage increase, West Little Rock families were promised a new Grades K-8 school.
Ten years later, Dr. Don R. Roberts Elementary opened, but as a Pre-K-5, albeit the largest elementary school in the district. And the words “West Little Rock Middle School” were never to be spoken by anyone in authority.
Soon after opening, the demand for Roberts was so strong, the elected board cancelled Pre-K to free seats for K-5. Despite presenting several options for the elected board to preserve Pre-K, once again, the needs and desires of West Little Rock families were ignored, and over 100 West Little Rock Pre-K seats disappeared.
Because West Little Rock’s elected board member and his colleagues refused to acknowledge the need for a middle school, West Little Rock parents initiated a Grades 6-12 open-enrollment public charter school.
The elected board hastily bought land on Katillus Road to demonstrate movement, and launched a ferocious, public attack on the charter application and its supporters.
The district lost.
Despite assurances made, under oath and preserved on video and in transcript, by its representatives fighting the charter, the elected board did nothing to build the promised middle school.
In 2014, the elected board finally voted to build a West Little Rock Middle School concurrently with a Little Rock Southwest High School. However, both projects’ construction was mandated to be completely synchronized, despite the increased cost, and both were contingent upon the success of an unscheduled millage increase election.
In 2015, with 3/5 of the district’s high schools and 1/3 of its middle schools in Academic Distress, including both secondary schools zoned for West Little Rock, many parents supported the State’s intervention in the district and removal of the elected board. Having just one Academic Distress school may trigger State takeover.
Then, when the Leisure Arts building became available at a fraction of the cost of building a new school, it was West Little Rock parents who launched the campaign which resulted in the purchase and repurposing of the 245,000 square foot facility into Pinnacle View Middle School.
Former elected board members Jim Ross and Joy Springer and their attorney, John Walker, sued to stop it and all new West Little Rock public schools in federal court.
With elementary feeder schools of Fulbright, Terry and Roberts, U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall, Jr. hailed Pinnacle View as the “mosaic to which we have all aspired” and the potential rebirth of the district.
Pinnacle View opened as a sixth grade in 2016, and by 2018 will host 1,200 6-8 students as the largest middle school in the district.
The State of Arkansas has the constitutional responsibility for public education in the state. It delegates that authority to public school districts and open-enrollment charters. When either of those fail, the State must intervene and reassert its responsibility.
LRSD has had 24 superintendents in 35 years and averaged nearly two new board members a year. The state’s governance is simply the latest and most stable in generations. Finally, the district has the opportunity to trend in a positive direction for the students, families and citizens of Little Rock.
Under the leadership of Superintendent Michael Poore, the district’s Community Advisory Board, and State Department of Education Commissioner Johnny Key, the district proposes to refinance and extend the term of its current debt service bonds. Without raising taxes, this will generate $160,000,000 to build the promised Little Rock Southwest High School and make capital improvements at every other school in the district.
Many opposed to the State’s intervention in Little Rock oppose the millage extension. Others are on the fence, weighing the value of immediate facilities for students against who is, or is not, in control of the district.
Once again, it is time for West Little Rock families to buck the status quo, step up and lead. We saved the district millions by buying and refurbishing an existing building, which retained and attracted students. We can build a new Little Rock Southwest High School and improve every school in the district by refinancing our debt and finally begin using more of our 12 debt service mills as voters intended. The previous elected boards had used eight of those twelve debt service mills not for facilities, but for operations.
Conventional wisdom says West Little Rock won’t vote YES in any millage election, even one that doesn’t raise taxes. But “conventional wisdom” is what got the district into the condition it was in prior to State intervention. And “conventional wisdom” is what allowed West Little Rock to be ignored and neglected for decades.
While leaders waffle and refuse to counter the lies and conspiracies fomented by a loud, but increasingly irrelevant and shrinking fringe, LRSD facilities crumble or are nonexistent.
The most famous high school in America, which celebrates the sixtieth anniversary of its integration in the fall, is two-thirds over capacity, holds class in portables, and has locker rooms so abysmal, visiting athletic teams have had to change clothes in their buses. In the fall, the world will be watching again. What will it think about what it sees?
In 2000, the elected board made promises to West Little Rock it and subsequent boards did not keep. In 2017, the only promise made is that all students, families and citizens of the Little Rock School School District, no matter their culture, economic status or ZIP Code, will finally be equally valued.
History calls, West Little Rock. In a referendum on the best interests of students over the self interests of adults, vote FOR on May 9th. And follow, participate in the campaign at Facebook.com/RebuildLRSchools.