Tuesday, July 18, 2017

TOP STORY >> PCSSD terminates law firm and Guess

Leader senior staff writer

The Pulaski County Special School District Board, by a vote of 6-1, on Tuesday night fired the Allen Roberts Law Firm, its desegregation lawyers, went into executive session and emerged unanimously to “immediately terminate Dr. Jerry Guess from superintendent.”

The board returned to executive session and came back about 30 minutes later to promote Dr. Janice Warren as superintendent through June 30, 2018.

Warren was the district’s assistant superintendent for equity and student services.

“I want to assure everyone school will start on time, go smoothly, and we’re going to have a great year, with the board working together,” said board president Linda Remele.

“This board wants unitary status. We reiterated to (Warren) we want her to work with Sam Jones toward unitary status. If you can work out an agreement with no side deals, we encourage you,” Remele said.

Jones is another of the district’s desegregation lawyers.

State Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell appointed Guess superintendent in 2011, when the state put the district in fiscal distress and dissolved the school board.

“These have been the six best years of my life,” Guest said after the firing. He was told toclear out his office Wednesday.

“We do not have faith in the Allen Roberts Law Firm,” Remele said. Guess said he would not work with another lawyer.

Allen Roberts and Whitney Moore have worked with Guess on achieving unitary desegregation status and dealing with federal court oversight since 2011.

Before the Roberts firm was fired, Guess told the board he would not work with other desegregation attorneys in attempts to achieve unitary status, leaving board members little choice but to fire him after they fired Roberts and Moore. Guess told of the important part Roberts had played in helping move PCSSD forward.

The board felt that Guess, Roberts and Moore exceeded their authority in getting involved in the Doe v. Little Rock School District suit, supporting a motion for a continuance.

They were seeking more time to negotiate with Joshua Intervenor attorney John Walker to reach an agreement that would find PCSSD unitary.

The board said Guess and the lawyers left them out of the loop.

“We were authorized and asked to do everything we did,” Moore said later. “We’re proud of the progress we made and hope the board will continue that progress.” Achieving unitary status is the most important thing,” she said, “correcting constitutional violations.”

Walker, who has been a slow-moving champion for Joshua, suddenly wanted a speedy resolution to the PCSSD unitary case, which would help him restore local control for the Little Rock School District, taken over by the state about a year ago.

The board feared that a speedy declaration of unitary status could result in a change of boundaries, dissolving PCSSD and creating a single district south of the Arkansas River and perhaps four north of the river. Those would be North Little Rock, Jacksonville and eventually Sherwood and Maumelle.

“This board sincerely desires unitary status the right way and not in a back room or negotiated deal in order to break up our district to help another district,” Remele said.

“We think the district is on the right track,” she said.

Guess said Roberts had initiated many of the innovative decisions that have moved the district forward.

“Tearing apart PCSSD is not an innovative solution,” said board member Alicia Gillen.

Shannon Hills Mayor Mike Kemp was the lone school board member opposed to firing the Roberts firm. “I’d hate to get this close to the finish line and try to change horses,” he said.

Under a two-year old state Board of Education proposal, Shannon Hills would be annexed to the Bryant School District.

Some PCSSD board members say Guess, Roberts and Moore caved into Walker, attorney for both the Joshua Intervenors and, in a separate suit to return local control to patrons of the Little Rock School District, the Doe plaintiffs.