By Ed Bullington
Fifty Year Patron of the Schools in the County of Pulaski
I am voting without hesitation to extend the millage for the Little Rock School District to finance much-needed construction, repair, remodeling, and other needs for the District. I have listened to and read numerous articles citing the opponents. And while I agree that they may have philosophical merit to their arguments against the millage, I find absolutely no practical, child-focused value regarding the welfare of the students with their opposition.
To postpone a vote to secure much-needed financing for crucial learning and teaching environments within the district does a tremendous disservice to the students. One year in the life of a child, positive-or-negative, can have life-long adverse or positive impact on a child’s ability to succeed in life. If a child is not on grade level at the conclusion of third grade, research clearly demonstrates that that child is not likely to do well for the remainder of his years. And as I learned while visiting with ADCofficials and inmates while teaching Government, Civics, and History to students about our system of justice, the steps inmatestook to wind up in prison were 1) not succeeding in class, 2) becoming frustrated and a discipline problem, 3) being truant and engaging in petty criminal activities which as they age through the school system they become more aggressive and serious and end up being arrested, charged, and convicted and in the prison system. A year in a good, healthy, bright, cheerful learning environment at an early age can turn that child around. Parents (of students) in LRSD public K-5 schools with students who are at fourth or fifth grade level are seriously exploring choices for their children as they enter an older school-age population with concerns for academics, security, or other issues. So we lose those parents andthose kids if they can go somewhere else, all to the detriment of the LRSD and all students.
This election is not about who is in charge, it is about an opportunity to provide a safer, cleaner, sounder learning environment. It is about keeping kids in LRSD, not losing them to alternative education choices. For example, at the new Pinnacle School on Highway 10, a survey of parents in that attendance zoneshowed that 30% said they would stay in public schools, while 70% said they would go somewhere else. But when the school opened, many of those families within the 70% stayed. And the school is a good, balanced mixture of white, black, and hispanicstudents staying in LRSD, not moving away.
I do not worry about local control or taxation without representation. To put things in a little bit of context, let’s consider the history of the “elected Board”. I have observed the Little Rock School District Board in person on Markham Street and on television, radio, and on cable television since the mid-80s. What I have often observed is a malfunctioning board that has too often engaged in in-fighting, senseless arguing, verbal jabs, and other conflict behavior far beneath that of a group as prestigious as that of a board of the largest district in the state. And they have as a board been too willing to blame someone else for their problems: PCSSD, NLRSD, etc. There have been many dedicated, conscientious, civic-minded, committed patrons who sought election and won a seat on the board with a primary focus on the children and teachers and serving with honor and ethics. But one or two on a small member board can be very disruptive.
This election is not about fragile egos or power. The elected board over the past 30 years has hired 23 superintendents for an average tenure of 1.3 years. This is not stability. It does not instill confidence within the public for the school district and its public officials. It is about an elected board that has an historic reputation for divisiveness, conflict, ad hominin attacks and disruptive interference in administrative roles charged with running the district. It is about an elected board who has received approximately one billion dollars from the state above normal funding from local and state funding to improve academic performance. With almost one billion dollars plus multiple other billions of dollars over the past 30 years, the academic performance of all students from all schools not just those six schools identified as academically distressed is important. And thousands of additional students in the remaining forty-two schools are failing at below the 50% minimum threshold.
Of course I want and we all want restored local control. We want to hold leadership personally accountable. The key to restoring local control may very well be a positive outcome on this vote demonstrating responsible action for the kids.
This election is about the kids. The children. It is about the condition of the teaching and learning environment. Not boardmembers who were removed under authority of state law signed bya governor all of whom collectively received hundreds of thousands of votes from citizens in elections. It is important to note that in LRSD elections from 2012 – 2016 the turnout was anywhere from 295 votes to 1508 votes—for an average vote of 8.26% of registered voters. And if you factor in those who are actually eligible to vote, the average percentage drops to 6.3%. In other words, over 90% of the adults in the city of Little Rock who have had an opportunity to vote and voice their opinion have chosen not to. If you care about the kids, the children, you will set aside hurt feelings, philosophical differences and focus solely on the children: to keep kids in the schools and parents active in the district, not losing them to other educational settings. Little Rock School District voters will vote for or against, but those who vote will exercise their constitutional guaranteed voice. As one opponent commented, this election is like voting “. . .under conditions you might find in a developing country.” She also referred to the election as “political extortion.” Such rhetoric isdesigned to inflame emotion rather than clear-headed, decision-making for what is best for the children, not what is best for individual board members. We will have an open, fair election.
The Arkansas Board of Education is comprised of highly qualified,committed individuals who from all apparent appearances are seriously concerned about public education. Three of whom I know well enough to identify by name with the knowledge that they will not let the best interest of the kids be subverted by an appointed “superintendent or board”: Jay Barth, Fritz Hill, and Diane Zook.
The LRSD Board (Johnny Key) is not the issue.
To call this election “taxation without representation” is a wholly false descriptor. The people of the district will either vote for or against the millage extension, it is not an increase. If they vote for the millage election, I feel very confident that there are committed members on the state board who will make sure that the dollars are spent for “much needed building replacement in Southwest Little Rock, renovations in Southwest Little Rock, restroom renovations at eight schools, roof replacements at thirteen schools, safety installations with major fire alarm systems, air conditioners for hot cafeterias, window replacements at twelve schools. All of which will meet critical needs to place our children in a safe, clean,climate-controlled, dry, cheerful learning environment.
Personally, I am a product of the public schools, as are my parents and my four brothers. My daughter is a graduate of the LRSD, my granddaughter attended public schools within the city for four years. I do not give a darn about Johnny Key, Governor Asa Hutchinson, or others cited to justify a no vote. As I have done for 50 years in Little Rock, I do care enough about the kids, the children, their learning environment. I will cast a proud vote for the millage extension, For The Kids!!!!