Friday, July 21, 2017

EDITORIAL >> PCSSD board risking havoc

Jerry Guess is no longer superintendent of the Pulaski County Special School District, and it’s a cryin’ shame.

It didn’t have to be that way. Hours before the special board meeting called to consider firing the lawyers, school board president Linda Remele said she hoped it could be fixed.

The unfixable part, it turns out, was Guess’ refusal to work with different lawyers if the board fired two of its current desegregation lawyers, with whom he had a long and successful history.

A syllogism is a logic construct and this syllogism states: “If A, then B.” “A,” “Therefore, B.”

Whether out of friendship and loyalty, just plain stubbornness or some principle of the thing, Guess told the board Tuesday night he wouldn’t work with other lawyers if they fired Allen Roberts and his associate Whitney Moore — which they did by a vote of 6-1 — and as day follows night, he was fired immediately and unanimously.

The Roberts Law Firm, with Guess, helped lead the way on PCSSD’s desegregation efforts and, in a related matter, the successful detachment of a new Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District.

Nearly every patron in both PCSSD and Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District owes Guess, and by extension, Roberts and Whitney Moore, a huge debt of gratitude.

Guess and Roberts are a couple of good ole boys from Camden, and they worked together previously to create a desegregated Camden-Fairview District, with John Walker the opposing counsel.

Guess wielded far more power than a superintendent would normally and with the commissioner, decertified the PCSSD unions, altered the pay structure and, with Roberts, cut deals that finally ended the state’s annual desegregation payments of tens of millions of dollars a year to PCSSD and the Little Rock and North Little Rock school districts, while opening the long-sealed door to a standalone Jacksonville district.

After firing Guess, the board hired Dr. Janice Warren, promoting her from assistant superintendent for equity and student services.

Warren is well liked and respected by the staff as a person and an able administrator, and has no doubt already met with her cabinet by now to allay concerns and normalize the working environment.

Roberts and Guess operated the heavy machinery that has been slowly extricating the district from its desegregation problems.

As for Walker, he has been a champion for desegregation in public schools, occasionally with hyperbole and at the expense of common sense. For maybe 20 years he has slow-walked desegregation in Pulaski County, but on occasion, when he sees benefit in agreeing and moving forward, he can turn on a dime.

Some PCSSD board members said Guess, Roberts and Moore caved into Walker, because two cases may have created an opportunity for PCSSD to negotiate its way into unitary status. That would release the district from court supervision. U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall, who now oversees both cases, had previously ordered Walker and PCSSD attorneys to see if they could agree that the district was unitary in the final three areas — facilities, discipline and student achievement. Otherwise, he said, prepare to go to trial next year.

Guess, Roberts and Moore filed a motion in the Little Rock/Doe case seeking a continuance to give them time to negotiate with Walker on unitary status. That could wrap things up in months instead of years. PCSSD would be unitary, free of court oversight.

But the motion was filed without consulting the board, and the long-term effect could result in changed boundaries and dissolution of PCSSD.

Some PCSSD board members said that Walker was using his leverage to get Warren — a black woman — hired as assistant PCSSD superintendent last month, but a split board denied Guess’ recommendation to hire Warren.

“We may not be as in control as we thought we were,” Remele said.

Ironically perhaps, it was Warren the board hired Tuesday evening to replace Guess.

“Jerry Guess taught me 11th-grade English and was the newspaper adviser at Fairview High School,” said journalism professor Donna Lampkin Stephens. “He cared about me, encouraged me and pushed me, sometimes beyond my comfort zone…I am forever grateful to have had him as a mentor. He deserved better than what he got,” she said.

“Jerry Guess cares about each child getting a quality education,” his brother John posted online. “Each child. Not just well-to-do children, not just children that look like him, and not children that can run a football.”

The PCSSD school board should proceed with caution.