Wednesday, June 08, 2011

TOP STORY > >PCSSD board is concerned about future

Leader staff writer

A Pulaski County Special School District board member is suing another for $5 million, but the board meeting Tuesday night was focused as members tried to figure out their uncertain future.

And how did they feel about where they were headed?

Dazed and disoriented with the knowledge that an upcoming $2 million desegregation payment may not come their way and could impact the 2011-2012 budget.

Attorney Sam Jones, who is helping the district through its desegregation woes, called the board and the district a “ship in the ditch,” while Superintendent Dr. Charles Hopson made it clear that any failures rest with him.

The board also got a dressing down by Marjorie Powell, with the federal Office of Desegregation Monitoring.

But after nearly 60 minutes, the board came to the quiet consensus that it just didn’t know enough to take any actions regarding U.S. District Judge Brian Miller’s recent ruling to cut off desegregation funding immediately, yet not release the district from federal oversight.

Board president Bill Vasquez told board members to read the judge’s ruling completely and re-familiarize themselves with the district’s Plan 2000 as homework and be ready to move forward in two weeks.

“If we have to meet every week this summer to take care of our obligations to this district and the kids, then that’s what we’ll do,” Vasquez said.

Early in the meeting, Vasquez asked Powell to give the board some insight into what it could do to meet the judge’s ruling.

She did not hold back.

“The problem is with you, the board. You haven’t communicated to your rank and file. You haven’t showed that you are serious,” she said, adding, “You are too heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of the district. That’s what you have a superintendent for.”

Powell went on, “Oh, you’d had some good ideas, for a moment or two, but then you’ve gone on to something else.”

She said the judge’s main concern was proof that the district had an atmosphere and commitment to equity.

“The idea of equity can’t be something you look at once and set on the shelf. Every day it has to be something everyone is doing from the board down to the last janitor,” Powell said.

She also chided the district for not giving Dr. Brenda Bowles any line of authority. Bowles is the district’s assistant superintendent for equity and pupil services.

“She can’t make anyone do (what they’re supposed to). That has to change,” Powell said, adding that the district often either was or seemed out of compliance with the federal desegregation orders.

Board member Gwen Wil-liams, who has a $5 million suit against fellow board member Tim Clark for his actions in trying to concoct a story where she took a $100 bribe, agreed with Powell.

“Bowles should be second in line to the superintendent. She needs to have the authority and be allowed to be more involved. She has been ignored by past superintendents,” Williams said.

It had been pointed out at the last board meeting that the three or four areas where the judge said the district was meeting its desegregation goals were areas where Bowles was actively involved.

This is when Hopson said the failure for a positive direction on equity rested with the superintendent. The superintendent needs to be fully committed and give that direction to others.

Powell complimented the superintendent and the board briefly, “You are on target at times, but show no sustaining effort. That’s what the judge wants to see. You need to try better and to show good faith.”

She told the board that the job of the Office of Desegregation Monitoring was just to look at the district’s plan, see if the district is doing what it says and if it is working. Powell said the district needs to set benchmarks and goals for itself. “It can be a one percent improvement or five percent, but you need goals and then work to reach them.”

Vasquez said part of the problem is that three-fourths of the board was fairly new—only Williams and Mildred Tatum have been on the board long enough to understand the history of the district’s desegregation issues.

That’s why he told the board to go home and study up on the district’s desegregation guidelines, Plan 2000, “And let’s see if we are doing the things we said we would do.”

The board has a regular meeting set for next Tuesday and will meet again on desegregation funding and issues the week after.

Vasquez is also hoping the financial pathway will be clearer by then.

Jones told the board that the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals turned down the Little Rock School District’s efforts to stay or delay the cut-off of funding as “premature” since the district had also appealed to Miller. “He should make a ruling on that in the next week or so,” Jones said.