Wednesday, January 15, 2014

EDITORIAL >> Satisfaction in Jacksonville

Mick Jagger and Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. attended the London School of Economics about a quarter of a century apart and seem to have come away with different takes on satisfaction.

In 1969, the Rolling Stones released their classic rock song, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.”
Marshall, by approving a proposed desegregation-agreement settlement, assured that all five major parties to that agreement before him in U.S. District Court got a large measure of satisfaction.

In the main, Marshall approved the settlement between the Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County school districts, the attorney general’s office representing the state Board of Education and the Joshua Intervenors.

This settlement does not end efforts to finish desegregating PCSSD, but it clears away many other issues while recognizing that the district and the Joshua Intervenors have work to do in several areas before the district is finally unitary.

Among major components of the settlement were language which ends, following the 2016-2017 school year, more than $1 billion worth of desegregation funding, and which paves the way for Jacksonville-area voters to decide whether or not to break away from PCSSD and start their own school district.

It was not Marshall’s doing that the five sometimes adversaries came together with a hard-negotiated settlement, but he gets credit for recognizing the agreement as fair, reasonable and adequate, and for acting quickly to approve it.

Other aspects of the desegregation case have lingered months before other judges, but Monday morning Marshall held a hearing in which he heard from those objecting to parts of the settlement—no one said they wanted the settlement to fail—and heard opening remarks from attorneys for the parties.

In the afternoon, Marshall heard from a smattering of witnesses from the settlement signees. He recessed court at 3 p.m. and returned at 3:30 to bless the settlement and explain his decision.

Even those who had objected to the settlement expressed nothing but praise and appreciation for Marshall, who conducted himself with humor and humanity.

Chris Heller, representing Little Rock; John Walker, representing the Joshua Intervenors; Attorney Gen. Dustin McDaniel and Scott Richardson, representing the state; Steven Jones, representing North Little Rock, and Sam Jones and Allen Roberts, representing PCSSD sang in harmony on the issue of the global settlement, the heavy lifting and adversarial negotiating settled late last year.

The alternative to recognizing the settlement was a two-week legal battle sure to be expensive and disruptive.

Prior to court Monday and before donning his robe, Marshall came and mingled with the plain folks (well, OK, the lawyers and school officials) warmly greeting them, shaking hands and visiting.

Perhaps this is a Southern mannerism by a judge born in Memphis in 1963. Marshall is an Arkansas State graduate, holds a master’s degree from the London School of Economics and graduated from Harvard Law School.

Appointed by President Barack Obama, he became judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas on May 6, 2010, succeeding Judge Bill Wilson. Marshall clerked for U.S. District Judge Richard Arnold, of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

This is a time of celebration for dozens of people who advanced the baton toward the finish line for a stand-alone Jacksonville district. Inevitably over the 30-year effort, some have died — most recently attorney Ben Rice, who worked tirelessly on behalf of Jacksonville. Rice passed away March 12, 2013.

“Will Bond’s legislation guided the process,” according to Patrick Wilson, attorney for the Jacksonville Foundation.

Wilson and Daniel Gray, spokesman for the Jacksonville Education Foundation, are among the latest to champion the cause. Before Bond, his mother, former state Rep. Pat Bond, worked on the district. Also Dr. Greg Bollen, Bishop James Bolden, Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher, former mayor Tommy Swaim. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Now it is incumbent upon the people of Jacksonville and north Pulaski County to advance the cause en masse — or at least by a simple voting majority. Twice. It appears that on Sept. 16, they will be given the opportunity to vote in favor of carving their own school district out of the sprawling PCSSD, and in the future they will have the opportunity to increase the school millage to support $100 million or more worth of long-overdue construction and improvements to area school building.

“The hard work is still before us,” Gray said. As Mick Jagger sang, “If you try sometimes you just might find, you get what you need.”