Friday, March 19, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Vote to help Arkansans

U. S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln formulates a novel test for whether she will vote for something in Congress, or at least that is the whole premise of her re-election campaign. Never mind what the president, either party or special interests want, if it helps the people of Arkansas, she will vote for it. If it is bad for them, she will vote against it.

If that were indeed the case and if Arkansas’ six delegates to Congress followed the same doctrine, all four congressmen and both senators would be lining up to vote for the much debated and modified health-care bill. The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the bill tomorrow and, if it passes, the Senate will vote soon afterward, or as soon as it can beat down Republican parliamentary stalls.

Four of the six have already voted for a close version of the bill, but a day before the crucial vote all four now count themselves as undecided on the compromise between the Senate and House bills they had endorsed. Two of the six — Rep. Mike Ross of South Arkansas and Rep. John Boozman of Northwest Arkansas — are not going to vote for any serious health-care bill, not now, not ever, even though both have said the health-care system is broken and needs radical repair.

Boozman is not going to risk angering the leaders of his Republican Party and Ross made it clear that he was going with the loudest and meanest elements of the debate. Those are the people who showed up at his community forums and called his office to say that it was un-American to try to guarantee medical attention for those who can’t afford health insurance or who are denied it because of their perilous health.

Today, it seems likely that Sen. Mark Pryor and our own Rep. Vic Snyder will vote for the bill although they are keeping their own counsel and have made little effort to educate their constituents on what the complicated measures will do. Rep. Marion Berry of east Arkansas has seized on a silly little ruse to oppose a bill that he formerly supported. He is retiring but he does not want some of his conservative white supporters to remain mad at him for helping the black president realize one of his big goals.

Sen. Lincoln — who knows? She has ducked, dithered, temporized and shifted views so frantically for a year that she may simply vaporize before our eyes. She voted for the bill that she helped write. But now she says she will vote against it if the Senate uses a rule that allows a simple majority vote to pass a measure, a rule that she has eagerly supported in the past when a Republican president and Congress used it.

So why is the bill good for Arkansas, or rather especially good for Arkansas? It’s easy. Arkansas will reap more benefits than perhaps any other state, and the rest of the country, principally the wealthy states, will pay for our party. If you thought the union always favored the North, the eastern seaboard and the Pacific states, this bill offers a chance to rectify it. It does this principally in three ways:

Medicaid would be broadened to insure adults with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line, which this year is $29,327 for a family of four. All 50 states already insure many adults, several more generously than does the new health bill.

But Arkansas covers the fewest of any state — only adults up to 18 percent of poverty. Only Alabama comes close to being that penurious. So the bill would insure all these adults, of which Arkansas has a greater percentage than all but two or three states, and Washington would bear the full cost of their medical care through 2016. After that, the state government’s share of the cost would grow until it reached 10 percent in 2020.

For people between 133 and 400 percent of the federal poverty line, the government would provide a subsidy to help them buy insurance in the private market, including the private policies that are available to members of Congress and other federal government employees. Arkansas has a higher percentage of low-income workers than nearly every state, so like the Medicaid expansion, the premium subsidies would bring a tide of money into Arkansas, a lifesaver to struggling rural hospitals and physicians in poor areas. Medicaid reimbursement rates for doctors would be raised to Medicare levels.

To pay for the new government expense, the bill would impose the current Medicare payroll tax, at a rate of 3.8 percent, on the investment income of individuals earning more than $200,000 a year and couples earning more than $250,000. Investment income has been exempt from payroll taxes since 1965; only the earned income of workers has been taxed. Starting in 2019, an excise tax would be collected on very high-cost insurance policies, those costing $27,500 a year for families and $10,200 for single persons. Those are policies usually negotiated by the big unions, and there are few Cadillac policies in Arkansas.

Insurance companies would pay an annual fee, and makers of medical equipment would pay an excise tax. Fewer than 12,000 of Arkansas’ 2.9 million residents would pay higher taxes, and they have benefited from huge tax cuts the past nine years.

There rarely are benefits from being a largely poor state with few people of great wealth. Here is one.

The hundreds of thousands of Arkansawyers on Medicare would get a $250 rebate this year to cover drug costs when they reach the dreaded “doughnut hole” and lower drug bills in succeeding years.

Voting for the best interests of the people of Arkansas? Tomorrow and next week, we shall see who means it.

TOP STORY >> Candidate says he has background for victory

Leader executive editor

Scott A. Wallace of Little Rock is running for Congress in the Second District as a Republican. He’ll face former interim U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin in the May primary.

Wallace, 48, owns Bruno’s Little Italy restaurant in Little Rock and Whole Hog World Championship Barbecue in Jonesboro.

He’s a former Pulaski County deputy sheriff and a former board member of the Arkansas Tobacco Control Board and Arkansas

Motor Vehicle Commission. Wallace is a past member of the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Arkansas.

He is also a former basketball and football official. He’s been the director of the Southern Golf Association.

Wallace attended the University of Arkansas, where he studied advertising and public relations.

He says he enjoys family time, playing golf and riding Harley Davidsons. He and his family are members of the Summit Church.

Griffin was interviewed in The Leader on March 3. Here are Wallace’s answers to questions from The Leader.

Why are you running for Congress?

I am running because I believe that it is time to break this cycle in Washington of representatives who are not listening to their constituents.

We have a broken system and it was time for me as a small businessman to step off of the sidelines and go to work for the people here at home. I have served in many ways in this community and God has blessed me with a servant’s heart; I wanted to take that to the next level and give central Arkansas a representative that they knew was listening.
central Arkansas a representative who they knew was listening.

Why are you a Republican?

I am a conservative. I run on the Republican ticket because the “real” Republican Party is a conservative organization. What we have seen from the party the past many years has been anything but what conservatism is all about.

Who is supporting your candidacy?

I have local support only. We are not taking Washington money in this race. The national party, power brokers and lobbyists have injected themselves into my opponent’s campaign in a big way. I would ask ‘why’? I do not want to owe anyone in Washington; we are going to be loyal to the people who put me there who reside here at home.

Will your small-business background prepare you for Congress?

I am not sure anything will prepare anyone for what is happening in Washington. I will take my 23-plus years of facing everything you can think of from the government and the practical experience and use that knowledge to represent the rights of business owners here in central Arkansas. We are the job providers, the federal government needs to stay off of our backs, allow the citizens to have their money and our economy will be fine. You cannot tax people to death and expect them to run out and buy goods and services. Chicken before the egg! Get the government out of everyone’s lives, it is far too invasive.

What makes you different from Tim Griffin and your potential Democratic opponent?

I cannot speak for my Democratic opponent, not sure who that will be. As far as my primary opponent, I have 23 years-plus of “real” small-business experience, employing hundreds of Arkansans and facing what businesses face that have employees.

He claims to own “two small businesses” — he just does not reveal that he is the only employee. There is a dramatic difference in the practical experience between the two. I have also lived in this district my entire life.

This is my home, I know the district, I understand the people here and I have served here in many ways on many charitable boards, commissions and appointments. I feel like the district is ready for someone who is not connected to Washington like my opponent and who actually has lived here and understands the people here.

I will be here, I won’t ever move to Washington. What do you want, a Washington insider with very deep Washington connections and loyalties or someone who is free from that burden and that has one desire to serve the folks here at home?

To me the choice is clear, it is time to send Washington a message, this is our seat.

How will you help Arkansas if elected?

By being here and listening to the people. I will form accountability groups all through the district that will include all political persuasions and all types of professions, and I will meet with them on a regular basis. We will explore what the people want for the district. Help bring jobs here and lessen the burden of the federal government on everyone here at home. You have to have the input of those you represent to have true representation. A simple process that Washington has forgotten, in my mind.

Has the political scene changed much in the past few months? Will that help you?

Simply yes and yes! The liberals who are running this country are doing things that have never been done before to our nation.

We are having massive pieces of legislation being brought up to be passed without voting. This is an abomination to the Constitution (no pun intended) and this kind of government will solidify true conservative values that most people hold and it will permanently damage the Democratic Party.

You are seeing all sorts of Democrats backing down on this health-care bill—some are smarter than others, and some have a sense of conscience. I applaud those who are standing against this form of government.

Cong. Vic Snyder has been a strong supporter of Little Rock Air Force Base. Will you help the base?

Yes, I will support the military base in Jacksonville. It is a very important part of our community and I will fight to keep it operational and make sure it, like the rest of our military, will have the resources to engage our enemies with full force.

What can we do about health care? What kind of legislation would you support in Congress?

Health-care reform is an overstated phrase. We have the best health care in the world. No one has the technology that we have, and we are the envy of the planet.

However, we do need insurance reform. Open the borders across the country and create competition, eliminate the pre-existing condition rule, have a non-governmental grievance board that will oversee issues with people being dropped by plans and make the insurance companies become entrepreneurial again.

They have not come up with new products for years. A low-cost catastrophic policy is needed for those who do not want insurance that will help in the event of a major issue.

Many in the 32-plus million who the government wants to insure don’t want to pay for full insurance. We need products that deal with that type issue. Baby steps, not an overhaul. Common sense!

When it comes to health- care cost and taxes, what can we do to lessen the burden on individuals and small businesses?

I believe that some of the previous answer addressed the issues with individuals. However, small business is another deal altogether. Small business cannot be taxed any further, period. It is very hard to make a living as a small-business owner as it stands now.

If the government adds more cost to our plates, we will be in crisis and it will bring this country down. We employ over 75 percent of the people in the nation and we are the most heavily taxed in the nation. To add to the burden is a mistake, it will send unemployment through the roof and the economy will take a huge hit or collapse.

You cannot strangle the engine of the economy and not expect disastrous results. Most small business that I know of cannot incur health-care cost, much less have the IRS enforcing all of these regulations. Get the federal government out of small business.

How do we restart the economy?

There are two very simple-sounding ways; stop the federal government from spending and give the people their money back.

This is much more difficult to enact, but it is the basis for sound growth in our economy. You and I have to balance the checkbook, why shouldn’t Congress? They are consistently spending more than they take in, and are not listening to the country telling them to stop. We have got to cut out earmarks and pork for the time being and possibly forever.

Our Constitution has been trampled by Congress, both parties are guilty. The Constitution does not give Congress the right to spend where it spends and force things like health care on the people, it just doesn’t. If the government spends less, taxes go down and the people have more disposable income, they will re-generate the economy.

Don’t give me tax breaks to hire the unemployed. Give the people the money to spend in my business and I will hire the unemployed. Again, chicken before the egg; where is the common sense?

What does your family think about you running for Congress?

They understand that God has given me a servant’s heart and they know how seriously I take that responsibility, so this has been no surprise for them. They have come to expect that I will step up to the plate. All of my girls are very supportive.

TOP STORY >> Census uses technology for counting

Leader staff writer

Sherwood officials are worried about hundreds of census forms Sherwood residents have received with North Little Rock addresses.

There’s also Gravel Ridge. Many residents in that community, annexed last year by Sherwood, are receiving census forms with Jacksonville addresses on them, and many residents living in north Pulaski County are getting census forms with Cabot addresses.

What town or city gets to count those people and does it make a difference?

Nationally, there are roughly $447 billion in federal distributions at stake this year as Americans respond to the 2010 census.

The results of the decennial headcount will determine future budgets, legislative redistricting and key decisions on highways, schools, health facilities and much more, according to the Brookings Institute.

Each person a city counts is worth about $1,000 to $1,500 times ten years. “So it’s important that we count everyone and count him or her properly,” said Norwood Seymour, partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau, working his fourth census.

Jim Durham, Jacksonville director of administration and point man for the city’s census efforts, says the address on the form is for mailing purposes only and that people will be counted based on current corporate boundaries through the use of a geographic information system (GIS), a system that captures, stores, analyzes, manages, and presents data that are linked to location.

“At least that’s what we were told at our meetings in Little Rock,” Durham said.

But Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman isn’t taking any chances.

The city has sent out about 11,000 postcards, at a cost of around $2,500, asking city residents whose census forms contain a North Little Rock or Jacksonville address to cross out the address and write in Sherwood.

Seymour said the U.S. Census had people out in the field last summer with GPS and geo-coding equipment marking homes and city boundaries. “It’s about the house, not the address,” he explained. But still Seymour recommends marking through the postal mailing address and putting in the right city and zip code.

“But don’t mark through the bar code,” he warned. “That can cause problems reading the form.”

Durham said with the GIS tools, a resident would get counted appropriately even if a street was split between two cities.

Sherwood wants to get all of its residents counted, as it expects to see close to a 40 percent increase in its population. In 2000, the census showed Sherwood had 21,511 residents.

City officials are expecting that to be about 8,500 higher in this census count. Sherwood was counted for the first time in 1950 and had a population of 717.

In 2000, census records put Cabot’s population at 15,261. But by 2005, city officials knew it was thousands above that. A special census in 2006 showed the population increased by more than 6,000 to 22,092, which added $1.3 million to the city’s coffers.

Durham said recent estimates put the city’s population around 34,000. Jacksonville residents were first counted in the 1950 census, which showed a city population of 2,474. The 2000 census showed a population of 29,916.

Lonoke residents were first counted in 1880 and at that time the city had a population of 659. In 2000, that population had grown to 4,287.

Ward was first counted in the 1930 census and had a population of 275. In the 2000 census, the population had grown to 2,580.

The census information also affects the numbers of seats a state holds in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Plus, people from many walks of life use census data to advocate for causes, prevent diseases, research markets, locate pools of skilled workers and more.

Residents not returning a census form will most likely be visited by census workers later this month or in April.

TOP STORY >> Marker recalls fire at Twist

A marker on the site of a burned-out nightclub in Twist recalls an appearance by B.B. King in the mid-1950s.

B.B. King still plays his Lucille.


Leader executive editor

There’s finally a marker honoring B.B. King in Twist in Cross County, Arkansas, where the great blues singer escaped from a fire at a nightclub with his guitar and named it Lucille.

You’ve probably heard the story: Back in the 1950s, a couple of fellows fought over a woman and knocked over a barrel filled with kerosene used to heat the club.

Everybody fled, but King realized he’d left his guitar inside the burning club. Risking his life, he retrieved the guitar. He found out the woman the men had fought over was named Lucille, so he’s named all his Gibson guitars after her.

King lived in nearby Parkin for a while and is said to have family there. Howlin’ Wolf farmed near a bend in the St. Francis River and also lived in Parkin for a time. He was inducted into the Army at Camp Robinson during the Second World War. He, too, deserves a marker.

Arkansas is just catching up with Mississippi when it comes to celebrating our musical heritage. Mississippi has put up dozens of markers honoring such great bluesmen as Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Son House and others.

The King marker is among the first of several more planned around Arkansas. A marker in downtown Helena honors the King Biscuit Time radio show, which is still on KFFA. Almost 70 years ago, Sonny Boy Williamson was promoting Sonny Boy Corn Meal on the program.

A marker in downtown Helena honors the historic radio show and the blues musicians who played on the show. The old Brinkley railroad depot pays tribute to rhythm-and-blues pioneer Louis Jordan, whose music evolved into rock-and-roll.

Other Arkansas musicians who should get their own markers are Albert King, Charlie Rich, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Robert Junior Lockwood, Levon Helm, Al Green, Johnnie Taylor, William Warfield and Junior Parker.

Rockabilly Roadhouse on Hwy. 67 from Newport to the Missouri border honors the rockabilly stars of the 1950s, including Arkansans Johnny Cash, Billy Lee Riley and Sonny Burgess.

Amazingly, Burgess is still going strong at the age of 80 and will appear at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Jacksonville Senior Center, 100 Victory Circle. Don’t miss it.

The current issue of Living Blues celebrates the magazine’s 40th anniversary.

Who says music in the 1970s wasn’t any good?

A list of the decade’s best blues records compiled by Jim DeKoster, a longtime contributor to the magazine, includes several Arkansas-born musicians: Luther Allison (“Luther’s Blues”), Buster Benton (“Spider in My Stew”), Frank Frost (self-titled), Robert Lockwood (“Steady Rollin’ Man”), Jimmy McCracklin (“Yesterday Is Gone’), Son Seals (“The Son Seals Blues Band”) and Junior Wells, who is listed twice: His “Southside Jam” with Buddy Guy and “Buddy Guy and Junior Wells Play the Blues.”

Other musicians with Arkansas connections include Albert King’s “I’ll Play the Blues for You” (he grew up in Osceola); Fenton Robinson’s “Somebody Loan Me a Dime” (he lived and worked in Little Rock for a time); Geater Davis’ “Sweet Woman’s Love” (he also lived for a while in Little Rock, where a couple songs were recorded), and the great Howlin’ Wolf’s “The Back Door Wolf.”

Omitted from DeKoster’s list is the best solo acoustic record of the 1970s: Johnny Shines’ “Crossroads Blues.” It’s a stunning CD, beautifully recorded by the blues scholar Pete Welding.

In the 1930s, Shines used to travel through Arkansas with Robert Johnson, whose music Shines performs with enormous power and emotion. It’s as if both artists were still alive, playing at the crossroads and waiting for the Greyhound bus to catch a ride.

TOP STORY >> PCSSD feels heat as hearing ends

Leader staff writer

On Friday, the Joshua Intervenors, advocates for black students in the Pulaski County Special School District, rested their case in federal court, saying the district has failed to achieve unity status in the delivery of education to blacks compared to nonblacks.

The case opened in the court of U.S. Judge Brian Miller on March 1. Miller is expected to make a ruling on the PCSSD desegregation case, as well as for the North Little Rock School District, later this year.

Both sides must still file briefs summarizing their cases. Before that, John Walker, attorney for the Joshua Intervenors, will take depositions from Mildred Tatum, PCSSD school board member, and Tim Clark, board president.

Walker wanted Tatum to testify in court on Friday, but she could not be located.

Walker told Miller when court started Friday, “Ms. Tatum has eluded us as well as Mr. Jones (PCSSD attorney). Perhaps that is the wrong word; she is not available.”

Walker wants to find out from Clark what his connection is with the $3.2 million deal to acquire the 60 acres on which the new high school in Maumelle will be built.

The deal was solidified before Clark joined the school board.

Walker contends the decision to build the new school rather than renovate Oak Grove High School at considerably less expense went against consultants’ recommendations and disadvantages black students from poorer parts of the district. He faults the district for not following due process in the site selection process and says the deal was the product of secret dealings to satisfy Maumelle residents.

Miller told Walker he didn’t see that the board politics around the land deal would materially affect his decision about whether or not PCSSD has complied with its desegregation plan – known as Plan 2000 – and should be released from federal court oversight.

The district developed Plan 2000 along with the Joshua Intervenors and the Office of Desegregation Monitoring, an arm of the federal court. The court approved the plan in 2000.

To conclude his case that PCSSD has repeatedly dropped the ball over the years in regard to Plan 2000, Walker called a host of witnesses, including the former principal of the Jacksonville Middle School for Boys, two PCSSD parents, an educational researcher and two desegregation monitors.


Mike Nellums has been with the district for 25 years as a teacher, assistant principal and principal. He was the principal for the Jacksonville Middle School for Boys for three years, until the school board voted in 2009 to recombine the single-sex schools into one. Last fall, he became the principal at Mills University Studies High School.

The boys’ middle school has high proportions of black students, as well as those referred to special education or qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Despite that, the rate of discipline referrals decreased markedly, while state Benchmark test scores soared during Nellums’ tenure.

In his first year as principal at Jacksonville Middle, a mere 4 percent of the black boys tested proficient or above on the math Benchmark exam. In 2009, 61 percent were proficient or above in math.

Nellums testified that relations with district officials and the school board became strained because of his outspoken challenges to their policies. He said he had repeatedly complained to district officials that the school did not get its fair share of federal Title I funding, which is apportioned to districts according to the number of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

He said he wanted the funds to pay for literacy and math coaches and a curriculum specialist, rather than have to use the school’s general funds to meet the cost. The district did eventually provide the literacy coach.

In regard to discipline, Nellums said that he tried “any number of plans and schemes” and counseled with teachers who had high discipline referral rates rather than rigidly meting out punishment according to the student handbook. He brought in volunteer mentors to tutor kids and provide positive male role models.

Nellums said he did not “know what conclusion (the school board) came to when they voted to re-integrate the boys’ and girls’ schools. We made tremendous strides, but they decided to close it.”

When the boys’ and girls’ schools were recombined, Nellums first was terminated, then reassigned to Mills.

Last fall, he was investigated by interim Superintendent Rob McGill and nearly lost his job again, but was exonerated by a 4-3 school board vote. He has a discrimination lawsuit pending against the district.


Witnesses, Donna Houston, a lifelong resident of College Station, and Rizelle Aaron of Jacksonville testified about the poor condition of the schools attended by their grandchild and son, respectively.

Houston, who attended College Station Elementary School, as did her children, said she took a renewed interest in the aging school when she retired and her granddaughter began attending school there.

News reports about school funding made her question why the school was not getting a larger share.

How she felt when she visited the school after many years was “indescribable,” Houston said. She found broken ceiling tiles, non-functioning bathrooms, dust in the air from disintegrating carpet, mold and leaky roofs in some classrooms.

“The odors, the smells, in the bathrooms – it’s terrible,” Houston said. “The cabinets in my old classroom were the same as when I was there. The floor tile is the same.”

The district is now in the process of repairing the bathrooms and making other renovations.

“We need a facility that is clean and healthy and safe for our children,” Houston said. “All children are entitled to that. It would enhance the learning process.”

For years, white enrollment at College Station Elementary was 50 percent white, and there once was a waiting list for the school’s gifted and talented program that drew students from the far reaches of the district.

But white enrollment has dropped in recent years. Houston says the reason is the dilapidated condition of the school.

Houston said she chooses to not exercise her option to transfer her granddaughter to another school because College Station is her community and she wants to stay. The well-being of other children there matters too.

“We are a proud people and we want to build our community. If everybody leaves, it will deteriorate,” Houston said. “There are other children there, so it would be my duty to say something about the condition of the school.”

Aaron is a parent of two children attending Jacksonville schools. His son attended Jackson-ville Middle School for Boys when Nellums was principal. Aaron has been a vocal critic of conditions at the school as well as of decisions by the district administration and school board.

“In the past two years, there have been almost identical things wrong – in the boys’ restroom, electrical wires hanging from the ceiling. Ceiling tiles fallen. Pipes broken, flooding in classrooms and the library.”

Aaron said he would favor a separate Jacksonville school district only if there was minority representation in the school leadership.

“A separate district has the potential to be more productive, to do more for our children,” Aaron said. “Our children have to see our people in authority leadership roles to see that there is someplace to go from where they are now.”

Aaron said that his 16-year-old son, while at the district administration building, saw architectural models of the new schools for Maumelle and asked, “Why can’t we get new schools like that?”

“He still has to sit in classrooms with the tile falling off the ceiling and wires hanging out of the walls,” Aaron said.

“That is concerning, way beyond concerning. People don’t realize how much that affects children. When you deal with minority children, what our children see is the majority white over there,” referring to Maumelle, “that you have to move over there to get a better education.”


Debbie Goodwin, former assessment coordinator for the University of Arkansas at Little Rock College of Education, said in federal court Wednesday that the academic gap between blacks and non-blacks in Pulaski County schools “was slowly rising,” according to state Benchmark test data from 2004-06.

Goodwin, who is white, and two other UALR researchers were commissioned in 2006 by PCSSD to determine what kind of progress the district was making toward Plan 2000 educational goals.

The plan calls on PCSSD to improve academic performance by all students but with special attention to students who are black or disadvantaged by socioeconomic class or disabilities, and to close gaps in academic achievement, extracurricular activities and discipline rates between blacks and nonblacks.

The researchers conducted interviews with all PCSSD school principals, reviewed every school’s educational plan and gathered student achievement and suspension data for the 2003-04, 2004-05, and 2005-06 school years.

Although their findings did have some bright spots, Goodwin’s team overall found that the district had a long way to go in meeting Plan 2000 educational goals.

Not one school in the district made mention in its educational plan about giving special attention to students disadvantaged by race, socioeconomic status or disability.

Principals at 31 of the district’s 36 schools said that a racial disparity in achievement existed at their school, but only seven schools had made reduction of the racial achievement gap a goal.

While the number of both black and nonblack students scoring proficient or above on state Benchmark exams rose over the three years studied, the gap between blacks and nonblacks widened.

Goodwin told the court that the “No. 1 correlate of whether or not students will be successful is the relationship of the teacher to the student,” but her research found “very little indication that staff development is addressing the key areas of how different learning styles of students should affect learning.”

“Research is very clear; good teachers make good schools,” the study concluded. “Students who get several effective teachers in a row will soar no matter what their family background, while students who have several ineffective teachers in a row rarely recover.”

The gap in suspension rates between blacks and nonblacks also increased – by 504 suspensions from 2003-04 to 2004-05, while district enrollment declined. At 25 out of 36 schools, the difference in suspension rates between blacks and nonblacks was 20 percentage points or more.

The report concluded, “The district had lost its focus on infusing multicultural teaching in content and strategies,” which research has shown to be effective in engaging minority students in learning and improving discipline.

Goodwin and her team found that the district failed to follow through on its commitment to conduct a survey of black students to uncover root causes for poor discipline and use the data to remediate high suspension rates for blacks. The district did collect data, but never produced a report or made recommendations based on the findings. Goodwin found that regrettable.

“When you go to kids, you find out a lot of things that you need,” Goodwin said.

There are schools around the country that are “dispelling the myth that cultural issues override a school’s ability to increase student achievement,” Goodwin said.


Joy Springer, Walker’s own paralegal assistant, has worked for the Joshua Intervenors as a school monitor for 10 years. Walker called her to testify about her interactions with PCSSD officials and her impressions of the district’s commitment to helping close racial disparities in achievement and discipline.

Springer told of missed deadlines and meetings and committees that were never convened, on the district’s part, as well as a high turnover in central office administrators that did not serve desegregation well.

Since 2000, the district has had five superintendents, two on an interim basis. At one time, there were two assistant superintendents and two directors over duties related to desegregation. In the last decade, those areas have been consolidated into one position, under Brenda Bowles, assistant superintendent for equity and pupil services.

Springer said that James Sharpe and Don Henderson, former superintendents, both black, had told her “that they were of the opinion that there was no need for desegregation – that their administrations were not interested in focusing on desegregation.”

“They said that they were concerned about achievement for all students,” she said.

Margie Powell, an ODM monitor, said that the district continues to have “a shotgun approach” to discipline that lacks “a cohesive force, timelines or benchmarks.”

Powell did say that since 2007, she has seen a stepped-up effort on the part of the district to file reports required by Plan 2000 and generally stay in better communication about compliance efforts.

“We meet at least twice a month,” Powell said. “It has kind of kept us on track for what I would be looking for.”

The district filed its petition in 2006 to be declared unity and released from court oversight of its desegregation efforts.

SPORTS >> Upset tries, record feats create food for thought

Leader sports editor

By the time you read this, if anyone is reading this, Duke should have eliminated Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

This was written before Friday night’s game and I’ll charitably guess the top-seeded Blue Devils beat the No. 16 Golden Lions by at least 25 points in the South Regional game. Anything less, and we’ll call it a victory for UAPB.

This is Duke, after all, and UAPB is the school that has to play teams like Duke on the road to make money for the athletic department. The Lions started this season 0-11 while doing so.

UAPB beat Winthrop in the play-in game Tuesday to earn its No. 16 spot, and no 16th seed has ever beaten a No. 1 since the tournament field expanded to 64 in 1985.

A sportswriter friend of mine asked which would come first, a No. 16 beating a No. 1 in the tournament or the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series?

The Cub haters — otherwise known as St. Louis Cardinals fans — I know jumped in and expressed the hope they would see the basketball upset before seeing the Cubs win it all. I don’t know why people hate the Cubs anyway; they make a little noise once in awhile but they have never hurt anybody while providing decades of laughs, sort of like Jerry Lewis.

Anyway, I’m afraid the Cub haters may be right. No. 16 seeds play a No. 1 four times every year while Chicago hasn’t even been to a World Series since 1945. That’s a guarantee of four upset chances annually while there is no guarantee the Cubs will even play for a championship.

Baseball is a long grind in which even the most talented teams need a few breaks like good health, minimal slumps and a home-field hop or two.

Yes, I’d say the odds favor the basketball upset, not that I’ve actually figured the odds — as a Cubs fan myself I’ve learned it’s not wise to gamble. I still owe an old Air Force buddy a six-pack of something for losing a bet that the 1990 Cubs would finish ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

This whole discussion made me wonder what other sports feats will stand untouched for the remainder of this century, if not for all time.

In this past NFL season we saw how truly tough it is for a team to go undefeated. Cautious coaches who have locked up every home-field advantage are not going to risk the health of their best players, or their own jobs, in a meaningless late-season game, as the Indianapolis Colts ably demonstrated.

How about Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak? The only person to come close since DiMaggio set his mark with the Yankees in 1941 was Pete Rose, who hit safely in 44 games in 1978 and was the most passionately focused hitter since Ted Williams.

Yet Rose, whose streak came with the Cincinnati Reds, couldn’t touch DiMaggio and fell a game short of the National League record of 45 games set by Willie Keeler in 1896-97.

I imagine, with today’s platoons of relief pitchers and the distractions of the modern game, Joltin’ Joe’s record is safe.

Speaking of Williams, will he be the last man to bat .400 or better for a season, as Williams did when he hit .406 with the Red Sox in 1941? Again, squadrons of relievers and the demands of today’s game make this a longshot, but if one of these marks is going to fall, I think Teddy Ballgame’s average is the one.

When I looked at lists of some of baseball’s most unapproachable records — DiMaggio’s streak, Ty Cobb’s career .367 average, Cy Young’s 511 victories and 749 complete games — Williams’ average didn’t make the cut.

Many have flirted with .400, including active players like Ichiro Suzuki, Todd Helton, Joe Mauer and Chipper Jones, who all batted .365 or better.

But I’ll tell you what, if someone does bat .400, he wo3/19/10n’t do it with the combination of guts and grit Williams showed on the last day of the 1941 season. He went into a doubleheader against Philadelphia right at .400, and then he went 4 for 5 with a home run and three singles in Game 1 to run his average to .404.

Williams could have gone to the bench for Game 2 and sat on his average, but instead he put it on the line, took his cuts, and went 2 for 3 with a double and a single to wind up at .406.

No guts no glory. The best hitter there ever was knew that.

Too bad he wasn’t coaching the Colts this year.

SPORTS >> Castleberry propels Devils to big sweep

Special to The Leader

If there were any questions regarding the hitting abilities of Jacksonville’s Patrick Castleberry, they were answered in Tuesday’s conference opening doubleheader sweep of West Memphis.

The Red Devils swept the Blue Devils 14-0 and 13-1 as the Jacksonville offense continues to impress.

Castleberry was hitting .588 going into the day, and increased that to .609 after going a combined 4 for 6 with two doubles, two home runs and seven RBI.

The Red Devils’ catcher improved his season statistics to five doubles, four home runs, eight runs and an almost freakish 21 RBI as Jacksonville improved to 6-1. Castleberry hit a grand slam in Jacksonville’s 11-4 victory over Hot Springs Lakeside earlier in the year.

“That’s what he does, he’s a pure hitter,” Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows said. “You’re going to be hearing a lot about Patrick.”

Castleberry wasn’t the only Red Devil to have a good Tuesday. D’vone McClure was 3 for 3 with three runs and four RBI and went 2 for 3 in the second game.

Jacksonville didn’t waste time jumping on West Memphis early in the first game. Jacob Abrahamson and McClure led off the first inning with back-to-back singles, and then Castleberry stepped up and launched a 2-0 fastball over the fence for a three-run homer.

The game was all but over after the Red Devils batted around in an eight-run second. No. 8 hitter Noah Sanders led off the inning with a double and Logan Perry was hit by a pitch. The Red Devils then reeled off four consecutive hits to take control.

Meanwhile, things were going just as well on defense as the Blue Devils didn’t have a baserunner until a fourth-inning single and double. That was the only offense West Memphis would muster against Jacksonville starter Michael Lamb.

Lamb worked five innings with five strikeouts and two hits while he gave up no walks.

The nightcap saw almost as many runs, but not as many hits for Jacksonville in the 13-1 victory.

The Red Devils had seven hits, 10 walks and three hit batters. The bottom four batters for Jacksonville were a combined 0 for 11, but did score five runs.

Perry was walked twice and reached on an error and scored three runs as the ninth batter.

The first three hitters — Abrahamson, McClure and Castleberry — were a combined 6 for 9 with three doubles, a homer and seven RBI. Each went 2 for 3.

Cleanup hitter Caleb Mitchell didn’t get much of a chance to hit with three walks and was hit by a pitch.

Sanders picked up the victory on four innings of work. Nick Rodriguez finished off the fifth in relief.

“We knew we would hit it this year, but we weren’t sure about our pitching,” said Burrows. “We’ve been throwing strikes and pitching well. We’ll really see where we’re at against Cabot. They’ve got a good bunch this year.”

SPORTS >> Jacksonville suffers league setback

Jacksonville catcher Alexis Oakley goes for a bunt against Mountain Home.


Leader sportswriter

All it took for Mountain Home to claim a sweep over Jacksonville on Thursday was two bad innings by the Lady Red Devils at Dupree Park.

That’s one for each game.

The Lady Devils got off to a rough start in Game 1 and never recovered in Mountain Home’s 12-1 victory. They shook off the defeat with a strong start in the second game of the 6A-East Conference doubleheader, and even claimed a brief 1-0 lead, before the Lady Bombers lowered the boom in the top of the fifth inning.

Mountain Home scored seven runs in the fifth to get its second run-ruled victory, 11-1.

The Lady Bombers scored seven runs in the bottom of the first inning in Game 1 and never looked back, adding runs in each of the final three innings.

Jacksonville’s sibling sophomore pitchers Alexis and Whitney House traded time in the circle in both games. Alexis House ran into a stout Mountain Home lineup in the bottom of the first in Game 1 and was relieved by Whitney.

Whitney House closed the first game while Alexis House returned to start Game 2.

She held the Lady Bombers scoreless for the first two innings, but Mountain Home scored three runs off three hits in the top of the third before going on a six-hit, seven-run spree in the top of the fifth.

Fielding errors also played a role in Jacksonville’s fifth-inning woes. Mountain Home scored its first run on an outfield error that allowed Alex Osmun to circle the bases.

The second miscue was an infield error that scored another run, and an error at third later gave the Lady Bombers loaded bases with no outs.

The dominant pitching of Mountain Home starter Shelby Anderson also made hitting difficult for Jacksonville. Anderson’s presence on the mound was authoritative, as she held the Lady Red Devils to only one hit for both games.

Senior second baseman Jennifer Bock got the only hit of the night for Jacksonville with a bloop to left field in the top of the third inning in Game 1.

But that came after Anderson had already struck out two Lady Red Devil batters, and an infield fly by junior catcher Alexis Oakley left Bock on the bases.

Bock scored the only Game 1 run for Jacksonville when she led off the game by reaching on an error in left field.

The error allowed Bock to reach third, and she tagged up and scored two batters later when junior shortstop Chyna Davis popped up to right.

Junior right fielder Riley Zinc scored the Lady Devils’ only run of the second game in the bottom of the second inning when she reached on an error at first and scored later on a passed ball.

Mountain Home answered quickly in the top of the third. Jenna Gilbert reached on an error and advanced on Anderson’s double, and Ashley Brison loaded the bases with a single.

Miranda Manchester drove in the first two runs with a single to left-center, and courtesy runner Michala Shrable tagged up moments later to plate the third run.

The Lady Red Devils will take the week off for spring break and will return to action next weekend in the annual invitational tournament at Harrison.

SPORTS >> Players enjoy last fling in All-Metro Classic

Deshone McClure, of Jacksonville, goes for a layup in Tuesday’s All-Metro Classic at Little Rock Hall. McClure teamed with players from North Pulaski and Abundant Life to grab a victory.


Special to The Leader

The North Pulaski Falcons didn’t get the chance they wanted to play Little Rock McClellan in the Class 5A state finals, but were able to get a measure of satisfaction Tuesday night.

North Pulaski’s Raymond Cooper and McClellan’s Chris Threatt were head coaches in the All-Metro Classic at Little Rock Hall, with Cooper’s team coming out on top 119-99.

Each coach had three players from their high school teams, and the Falcons’ players definitely had the better night.

Kyron Ware made six three-pointers on his way to a game-high 21 points and his team’s Most Valuable Player trophy. Ware was also the co-champion in the slam-dunk contest with Little Rock Central’s Alandise Harris.

“I was really excited to be playing tonight,” Ware said. “The MVP stuff doesn’t really matter to me, I just wanted to come out here and have fun and put on a show for the crowd. Coach Cooper told us to push the ball as hard as we could while we were out there and to go get a W.”

North Pulaski’s Aaron Cooper and DaQuan Bryant were the other two Falcons. DeShone McClure of Jacksonville and Garrett Southerland of Abundant Life also had solid games.

McClure was the second-leading scorer with 19 points while Southerland  scored nine points and led both teams with 12 rebounds.

Team Threatt had more size, but it was Team Cooper that controlled the rebounding as well as being the quicker team with more shooters.

Team Cooper did have some size in 6-7 Gary Smith from Parkview, the 6-6 Southerland and the 6-4 McClure, but all three play more like guards or small forwards. Team Threatt had more traditional post players like 6-8 Jeff Drew from Little Rock Hall, 6-6 Mike Malvin from North Little Rock, 6-5 Mike Bradley from McClellan and the 6-5 Harris.

The extra size didn’t come into play much as the teams ran few set plays and relied more on quickness.

Team Cooper out-rebounded Team Threatt 39-24 in the first half and 65-48 for the game.

Aaron Cooper had the best all-around night with 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Half of those assists came on passes to Ware.

Little Rock Hall’s Rakeem Dickerson was named MVP of Team Threatt with 15 points — all in the second half. Team Cooper led 97-69 with 9:24 remaining.

The players from Jacksonville and Sylvan Hills made a good showing in helping their team win 83-71 in the girls All-Metro Classic.

The victory was also the 32nd of the season for current North Little Rock and former Lonoke coach Daryl Fimple, who led the Lady Charging Wildcats to a state championship. North Little Rock went 31-0, to win the 7A title and was ranked in the national top 10 this season.

The combination of Jacksonville’s Jessica Lanier, Sylvan Hills’ Terica Kendrick and Dee Dee Lewis along with Cassie Vaughn and Markisha Hawkins of North Little Rock and Leslie Craft of Little Rock Central was just too much for Little Rock Hall coach Selita Farr’s team.

It looked like the high school mercy rule would be enacted after Team Fimple dominated the first half.

Lanier and Vaughn scored 15 of the team’s first 23 points as the squad led by more than 30 points at one point and went into halftime with a 54-26 lead.

Kendrick was third on the team with 14 points, scoring most of those in the final 10 minutes of the first half. Vaughn also scored 14 points.

“I’m really going to miss having those two on the court,” said Sylvan Hills coach Bee Rodden, who was cheering from the stands along with several other members of the Lady Bears. “A game like this is about having fun and showing what you can do and they’re both doing a good job.”

Lewis finished with six points.

Team Fimple seemed to relax a bit in the second half as Team Farr came back to make things interesting. Team Farr pulled within 65-60 at one point in the second half.

Three pointers from Craft helped keep Team Fimple in front. Craft made four on her way to a game-high 21 points.

Lanier had a solid night with 13 points and a game-high 12 rebounds.

SPORTS >> Crossett takes two from North Pulaski

Leader sportswriter

Conference play for North Pulaski began with a pair of slugfests against visiting Crossett on Tuesday.

The Lady Falcons fell in a pair of close games to start their 5A-Southeast Conference schedule on Field 6 at Dupree Park. The Lady Eagles took the first game 14-11 in eight innings and held off a furious North Pulaski comeback in the nightcap to win 12-11.

North Pulaski (3-3, 0-2) held Crossett hitless in the first two innings of the first game, but Crossett found its bats to start the third.

Crossett (6-4, 2-0) took a 10-7 lead into the bottom of the seventh, but gave up three runs as North Pulaski forced an extra inning. The Lady Eagles put up a four-run cushion in the eighth and held the Lady Falcons to one extra-inning run to clinch the victory.

North Pulaski trailed 12-3 in Game 2, but rallied in the top of the seventh to pull within 12-11 before Crossett finally put the Lady Falcons away to complete the sweep.

“We played better defense in the second game, it’s just that Crossett hit the ball really well,” Lady Falcons coach Ann Tharp said. “But we scored eight runs in the top of the seventh. It was one of the better comebacks I’ve seen this year. I was real pleased that they didn’t quit.”

North Pulaski’s young pitching staff was put to the test in its conference debut. Sophomore Brittany Bains started the first game before giving way to freshman Briana Escovedo in the top of the sixth. Escovedo closed out Game 1 and started Game 2 before she and Bains traded off again.

Bains held Crossett without a hit through the first two innings of the first game, but gave up six hits through the next three innings. Escovedo gave up four hits in her three innings, but the Lady Eagles benefited from three throwing errors by the Lady Falcons.

“I think we just got jittery because it was our first conference game,” Tharp said. “I know we made some throws in that first game we shouldn’t have made. We’ve been working on our hitting. We went through a lot of drills back when the weather was bad and we couldn’t go outside, so I hope that helps us out some.”

Junior Alexis Hendricks led the Lady Falcons at the plate in the first game. She went 2 for 3 with two RBI and three runs and walked twice. Freshman outfielder Shelbie Floyd got North Pulaski’s biggest hit with a double to left field in the bottom of the sixth that scored Lindsey Silvas to cut Crossett’s lead to 8-5.

Senior Allison Hillis bunted and reached on a throwing error. That sent Hendricks, who walked, and Floyd home to make it a one-run game. Hillis reached third on the play, but was left on when Katie Vidal struck out and Kelsey Whitmore popped out to short.

The biggest rally for the Lady Falcons in Game 1 came in the bottom of the seventh after the Lady Eagles had scored twice for a 10-7 lead.

Porscha Anderson led off, reached on an error and advanced when Britany Silvas singled to right field. Leadoff hitter Haley Hudson doubled to left to drive in the first run and Hendricks followed with a two-run single to tie it 10-10.

Two of the first three Crossett batters reached on errors in the top of the eighth. The second miscue led to one run and Tara Woods drove in two more with a double to the center field fence.

Kelsey Whitmore singled for North Pulaski to start the bottom of the eighth and Anderson delivered in RBI groundout, but Lady Eagles pitcher Jamie Doss retired two of the next three batters.

Hudson, Vidal and Whitmore all went 2 for 5. Hudson had an RBI and scored two runs, Vidal had two RBI and scored two runs and Whimore added an RBI.

For Crossett, Cierra Campbell was 3 of 4 with a triple, three RBI and two runs.

North Pulaski lost a non-conference matchup against Little Rock Central, 8-4, on Wednesday and will be off for spring break before returning to 5A-Southeast Conference play when it hosts Beebe in a varsity doubleheader March 30.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Will history repeat?

Jim Keet is our favorite Republican candidate for governor since Winthrop Rockefeller, but it took him less than two weeks to earn our disappointment.

Keet badgered Gov. Beebe to take a stand on the comprehensive health insurance bill before Congress, which Keet opposes.

That is fair enough. The bill would bring enormous benefits to the people of Arkansas — more perhaps than any state — but it also involves the state government in some long-term commitments, so the governor ought to take a stand. We hope it would be different from Keet’s but it is an obligation of leadership to guide us even on federal matters affecting state policy.

But the young businessman — he’s younger than we are — went further and announced that if he is elected he would press the legislature to pass a law preventing the federal health law’s application to the people of Arkansas. It’s called either interposition or nullification — take your pick — and the U. S. Supreme Court ruled exactly 207 years ago that the states could not do that. The state legislature would be ruling that a federal law was unconstitutional in its application to Arkansas, and the Supreme Court said states had no such authority.

But you do not have to trust the Supreme Court. Article VI of the U. S. Constitution, the supremacy clause, is unambiguous on the point: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

Sure, Virginia has already passed a nullification act in anticipation of Congress enacting mandatory health insurance. But Virginia did the same thing over slavery and then again after the Supreme Court outlawed school segregation in 1954. Does anyone remember how those turned out? Arkansas passed an interposition law, too, in 1956, but everyone knew it was a dead letter. Arkansas voters got it off the books 34 years later.

Adopting the national Republican Party’s stance, Keet says the federal government has no right to tell businesses and individuals to acquire health insurance. It just isn’t right, he said.

Then Gov. Keet, a man of consistent principle, next year will also push the legislature when it nullifies the federally required premiums on Arkansas’ uninsured people and their employers to also stop the collection of premium taxes for all the other forms of mandatory insurance — unemployment, old age, disability, survivors and Medicare —and get Arkansas people out of all those unconstitutional programs forthwith!

Those are the precedents for the health legislation. The only difference of consequence is that in all those programs people buy the insurance from the U. S. government. Under Obamacare, as critics call it, the private marketplace would provide it.

Jim Keet? He has always seemed like a thoughtful, practical and law-abiding man. The nullification talk is a crowd pleaser. He’s not an Orval Faubus or a Jim Johnson. We don’t think he would ever do it.

Ernie Dumas

EDITORIAL >> Two centers Scrutinized

The United States Department of Justice is an earnest protector of the disabled and downtrodden when its appointed minions can be diverted to political pursuits like harassing officeholders of the other party, but even on good causes it can overreach.

That is what happened when Justice lawyers asked the federal district court last week to halt the admission of severely disabled children to the state Human Development Center at Conway.

For a dozen years since the U. S. Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision on institutional care for the profoundly disabled, the Justice Department has been pushing states to move people out of big institutions such as Arkansas’ human development centers and into some kind of community setting where they can be part of neighborhood life. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 says states should strive for the least segregated and restrictive environment for their wards, and the Justice Department’s lawyers have been unstinting in making the states do that.

So the Justice Department sued the state and the Conway Human Development Center more than a year ago to further that goal, but it also alleged that the state provided some careless and sometimes inhumane treatment, including harsh restraints that are not necessary. Ninety percent of the residents of the Conway center now are adults, most having been admitted in childhood and spent their lives there.

The Justice lawyers offer some disconcerting statistics and anecdotes that suggest that the Conway facility does not care for its wards as assiduously as most other states do. The people who run the place say the attention is excellent, and families with loved ones there seem to verify it almost in unison. The court must find the truth or some proximate version of it.

But the immediate remedy that Justice seeks — halting admissions to the center — is a needless and even harmful one. The families of some 1,300 severely disabled people are waiting, often desperately, to get a loved one into the care of the program.

Nearly all the residents are so critically disabled that they cannot function alone and need round-the-clock assistance. The court should not resort to such a remedy — and we don’t think it will — unless the place is a snakepit where the health and well being of people are in peril.

That may be exactly the situation at another human development center at Alexander, on Little Rock’s southern periphery. The state’s own Office of Long Term Care unleashed a blistering report on conditions at the center, where the facilities were degraded and dirty and the staff often heedless of the dangers to people who were in its custody. Custody seems to be a better word than care.

Gov. Beebe said Monday that he was “lowering the boom” on Alexander. We don’t know what that means, but we hope that a minimum it means heads will roll and existence made bearable for those unfortunate enough to be entrusted to their care.

TOP STORY >> Wills runs for District 2 seat

Leader Editor

House Speaker Robbie Wills (D-Conway) is one of five Democrats seeking their party’s nomination to succeed Cong. Vic Snyder (D-Little Rock), who is retiring this year.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face the winner of the Republican primary, either Tim Griffin or Scott Wallace. Griffin answered a series of questions from The Leader on March 3.

Wills, a Conway native, was born May 27, 1968. He attended schools in Conway and graduated from Conway High School and the University of Central Arkansas. He earned a law degree from the UALR Bowen School of Law and is in private practice in Conway. He served two terms on the Faulkner County Quorum Court from 2001-2004, where he was chairman of the Faulkner County Jail Task Force.

Wills is an attorney and small businessman who says he has chosen law and law-making as his “profession and his dedication.” He says his public service is based “on common sense, fairness, purpose and working with others.”

Faulkner County voters elected him in 2004 to the House of Representatives. In 2007, at age 39, Wills was the unanimous choice of his colleagues to serve as House Speaker, making him one of the youngest speakers in the country. He says he has worked hard to live up to the trust given him by his family, those who elected him and those with whom he works.

Representing District 46, covering west Conway and the western portion of rural Faulkner County, Wills is the former chairman of the House Public Transportation Committee and is a member of the House Agriculture and Economic Development Committee, the House Revenue and Tax Committee, and the Joint Budget Committee.

He and his wife Dana have two young daughters, ages 8 and 8 months. For recreation, Wills enjoys running, reading history, playing music and rooting for the Razorbacks. The Wills family attends Grace United Methodist Church in Conway.

Why are you running for Congress?

I’m running for Congress because we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work bringing jobs and economic opportunity to Arkansas. That will be my No. 1 priority in Congress.

Families are hurting in Arkansas. People are concerned about their jobs, sky-high taxes, and they are sick and tired of fiscal irresponsibility in Washington.

I will do everything in my power to promote a strong economy, cut taxes, eliminate government waste and focus on economic development right here at home in Arkansas.

Who is supporting your candidacy?

The support for my campaign continues to grow every day from all areas of the district from Danville to Bald Knob and from Clinton to Benton. The most important endorsement anyone can get is from the people. And that endorsement comes on Election Day.

I’m working day and night to get out and talk to folks all over this district, and what I hear them talking about is getting this economy working for everyone. That’s what I intend to work on as a congressman.

Will serving in the legislature prepare you for Congress?

Absolutely. My leadership experience in bringing Democrats and Republicans together to get things done will be a great asset in Congress. My record on bringing jobs to Arkansas, providing better health care, cutting taxes and balancing the budget is clear.

Washington has lost its way, but I’ll do something to help get our economy and country back on track. Washington could use a little more Arkansas values.

What makes you different from your Democratic opponents and your potential GOP opponent?

No one in this race has done more about bringing jobs to Arkansas, cutting taxes and improving health care than me. I respect all the candidates running this year. A big difference between Tim Griffin and me is while he was in Washington as part of the problem, I’ve been in Arkansas as part of the solution.

I have a record of leadership and results here in Arkansas. I’ve balanced the budget, cut taxes, created jobs and worked with members of both parties.

While I’ve been doing those things here in Arkansas, Tim was a Washington insider practicing politics as usual. We don’t need to bring more Washington to Arkansas; we need to bring more Arkansas to Washington.

How will you help Arkansas if you’re elected to Congress?

My first priority will be to bring jobs to Arkansas and get our economy back on track. I’ll do what I’ve always done: stand up and fight for the people of Arkansas. After all, if your congressman won’t fight for Arkansas, who will?

Why did you get into politics?

I got into public service, not politics. I wanted to help make our community a better a place to live and raise a family. I still just want to make a difference for Arkansans and improve the quality of life for everyone.

Has the political scene changed much in the past few months? Will that help you?

The political scene has changed now that filing is over. Everyone knows their opponents and can make their plans. My plans haven’t changed.

I’m traveling all over the district and listening to the voters, just as I’ve done as speaker. I know they are concerned about our economy and the way things are done in Washington. I’ll get the job done for Arkansas jobs and a stronger economy.

Will the Second District switch from one of the most liberal to a more conservative congressman?

Folks in the district want a congressman who is one of them, who understands them and will fight for them. They want someone who can bring a common-sense, Arkansas approach to solving our problems, not someone on the extreme on either side of the political spectrum.

Vic Snyder’s been a great advocate for this district over the years — particularly for Little Rock Air Force Base — and I would hope to continue serving our area as well as he has.

When I’m traveling the district I don’t hear people asking about ideology. They are asking me, “Robbie, how are you going to make sure that I can pay the mortgage, or the pharmacy bill next month? How am I going to afford to send my kids to school?”

I have a proven record in the state legislature of working with Gov. Beebe to create those jobs that will let people live and work here in Arkansas.

What can we do about health care? What kind of legislation would you support in Congress?

First off, no one in this race has done more to improve the quality and accessibility of health care in Arkansas than I have. In 2009 under my leadership, the legislature passed a major health-care improvement package that created a statewide trauma system that will save hundreds of lives a year, keep community health centers open, and add thousands of children to the ARKids First health insurance program. We found a way to pay for it and we did this in about three weeks.

I support making health-care more affordable, making health insurance portable and protecting those who are vulnerable. I support such provisions that keep insurance companies from discriminating based on pre-existing conditions, health status and gender. I also support closing the donut hole in the Medicare prescription drug benefit and extending dependant coverage.

When it comes to health-care costs and taxes, what can we do to lessen the burden on individuals and small businesses?

First of all, we have to lower taxes for the middle class so they can afford to provide food for their family. I’m proud of the fact that we passed the largest tax cut in Arkansas history and I helped Gov. Beebe cut the grocery tax. We must also cut taxes for small businesses so they can hire new employees and put more Arkansans back to work.

My No. 1 priority is bringing jobs and opportunity to more Arkansans. Small businesses need to be given incentives for hiring new employees and providing health care, not given obstacles.

How do we restart the economy?

My No. 1 priority will be jobs, jobs, and more jobs. Bringing jobs and opportunity to the hard working people of Arkansas will be the thing that gets me up early and keeps me up late.

In the Arkansas House, I served on the committee dedicated to economic development. I worked with Gov. Beebe to expand the $10 million expansion of Arkansas Works, the state’s successful program to coordinate education, job training and economic development.

I also understand that our small businesses are the lifeblood of our state. I am a small businessman. Here in Arkansas we have more small businesses per capita than most any other state and we need to give our small-business community all the support we can. I helped lead the fight to make it easier for the Arkansas government to attract new businesses and jobs to the state. Supporting job growth and supporting small businesses will be my No. 1 focus in Washington.

What does your family think about your running for office?

We’re all in this together. My wife Dana, my daughters, my parents and sister are excited about this chance to fight for Arkansas. We’re not political insiders, we’re just simple folks trying to make a difference.

Rep. Snyder has secured millions of dollars worth of projects for Little Rock Air Force Base. Will you support the base if you’re elected?

Of course. Congressman Snyder has done a great job supporting Little Rock Air Force Base. I look forward to fighting for the mission of the base, the jobs that are created and the families that depend on the air base.

The men and women serving on base are critical to our security and our local economy. I’ll fight for them to have the resources they need to continue their mission in the future.

TOP STORY >> Beebe will join water group, see price hike

Leader staff writer

After more than an hour of explaining Monday night why it would be a good thing, the commission that runs the Beebe Water Department got the unanimous vote of confidence from the city council it needed before signing a contract to become part of the Lonoke- White Water Project that will bring water from Greers Ferry Lake to central Arkansas.

By its vote, the council assured the commission that the city will soon pass an ordinance increasing water and sewer bills by 6 percent a year for the next three years, an 18 percent increase overall. When all the increases are in place, the average bill for a family will be about $15 more a month than it is now.

The rate increase will raise about $182,000 a year to pay for the city’s connection to the system and the city’s part of the construction of the water intake structure and water treatment plant at the lake and the 30-inch water main to bring water to the area.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $40 million to $50 million. The money will come from the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, which funnels federal money to state projects.

The interest rate for the money that will be borrowed for 20 years is 1 percent.

John Hayes, chairman of the water commission, said by connecting to the Lonoke-White Project and buying a minimum of 7.52 percent of the water Beebe uses from the Lonoke-White Public Water Authority, which will oversee the project, the city won’t have to drill another water well by 2017 as planned and it won’t have to make upgrades to its water-treatment plant.

Hayes said no increase in water rates will be needed to pay for the minimum 75,000 gallons of water a day the city will be obligated to purchase from LWPWA when the project is completed in about three years. The Beebe Water Department can absorb that cost, he said.

Hayes corrected a mistake in the cost of water from the Lonoke- White Project. Instead of $2.50 per thousand gallons, the water would cost less than 80 cents per thousand gallons.

Don Beavers, the engineer who works on all water and sewer projects in Beebe, told the city council that although Beebe’s wells are stable and that the water level in the part of the Alluvial aquifer where the wells are located has actually risen in recent years, it could drop at any time the way it has in Lonoke, Prairie and Arkansas counties. Cities in those counties have been ordered by the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission to find other water sources.

“It should last 30 years,” Beavers said of the city’s well water supply. “But it could last only 10.”

The city needs another source, and the Lonoke-White Project looks like the best one, he said.

Beebe was part of the project when it started about 15 years ago but pulled out because of the cost and lack of control over the water. Lawsuits have taken control of the project away from Community Water Systems, which started it, and it is now controlled by project members.

Currently, there are 11 participants: Beebe, Cabot, Jacksonville, Vilonia, Grand Prairie Water, North Pulaski Water, Ward, Lonoke, McRae, Furlow and Austin.

Each participant has an equal vote on the board of directors.

TOP STORY >> Building rebounds, Cabot still Struggling

Leader staff writer

Sherwood’s construction rate has nearly tripled from last year’s figures and Jacksonville is up around 50 percent, but Cabot, following the national trend, is down about 10 percent.

Through February, Sherwood has seen a 195 percent increase in the value of building permits. The city issued 135 permits through February with a total value of $3.7 million. This compares to just 69 permits valued at $1.3 million for the first two months of 2009.

In Jacksonville, the city has issued 33 permits valued at $2.3 million through February, compared to 24 permits worth $1.6 million through the first two months of 2009.

Cabot has issued 11 permits valued at $2.4 million this year compared to 16 permits during the same time period in 2009 worth  $2.9 million.

Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman hopes the fast start is a sign of good things to continue. She said that spring and the nicer weather is bringing out a lot of construction.

“You can really see the work off Hwy. 107 and Johnson Avenue where the new middle school is going in,” she said.

Hillman added that many new homes sell for the same price as used homes, so people are opting for the new homes. She said the city is running low on open lots but she expects developers to bring new subdivision projects to the planning commission soon.

Jacksonville is on the pace to end up with about 20 percent more new homes than it had last year. City Engineer Jay Whisker said he believes developers are feeling more comfortable.

“Our development has always been slow and steady,” Whisker said. “So I don’t think we dipped as much as other cities.”

Some of the new construction in Jacksonville is happening in Graham Settlement, a 72-lot subdivision off Graham and Loop roads. Dana Nixon, who is involved in the project, said the last of the lots had been sold and construction should start on those lots in a few days.

Homes in the Graham Settlement are in the 1,150- to 1,450-square-foot range with double garages, extra-wide driveway, all brick façade and are energy efficient, according to Nixon. Most of the homes are three or four bedrooms.

Nixon’s group is also putting in roads in an additional subdivision, Graham Woods, also off Graham Road. This subdivision will include 85 lots when it is finished with homes similar to Graham Settlement.

 Nationally, housing starts fell in February as winter blizzards held down activity in the U.S. Northeast and South.

The Commerce Department said that construction of new homes and apartments fell 5.9 percent in February. Building permits, considered a good barometer of future activity, fell 1.6 percent nationally to an annual rate of 612,000 units after having fallen a larger 4.7 percent in January.

TOP STORY >> Lincoln campaigns on farm

Members of the local farming community gathered Saturday morning at the Bevis Farm in rural Pulaski County.


Leader staff writer

What was called an agriculture town hall meeting Saturday turned out to be more of a candidate stomp for Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who faces stiff competition in this year’s election.

For 30 minutes late Saturday morning at the Bevis Farm in rural east Pulaski County, Lincoln shook hands and hugged friends and supporters before embarking on a 45-minute talk about why she was the best choice for Arkansas.

Lincoln is opposed in the May Democratic Party primary by Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. Eight Republicans are vying for the chance to face Lincoln or Halter in November.

Speaking to thunderous applause and two standing ovations from more than 100 members of the local farming community, Lincoln insisted that the only special interest group she is listening to and voting for are the people of Arkansas.

Lincoln told her supporters that outsiders spent $7 million from August to December 2009 try to paint her as a pawn of special interests.

“Everyone and their dog are coming at me. I’m getting clobbered from the extremes on both sides, so that ought to tell you I’m doing something right,” she said.

Lincoln warned the group that these outside people are nationalizing the race for her seat. “They are trying to take our state and individuality away from us,” she said.

Part of the reason Lincoln was in the area was to let farmers know that the Senate passed her $1.5 billion disaster-assistance bill. The bill now goes to the House.

Lincoln, the first Arkansan and woman to chair the Senate Agriculture Committee in its 184 years of existence, wasn’t sure when it would pass out of the House, but guaranteed that she’s been “a bird dog” on the bill.

Once passed by the House, the assistance will provide significant help to Arkansas producers who suffered devastating weather and disastrous crop harvests in 2009. 

“Historically, it takes about three years to get an agricultural disaster-assistance bill out. We’ve done this in three months,” she said.

Lincoln added that in Washington, agriculture just isn’t a glamour issue. “Very few in Washington have even been on a farm, but I’m proud to be a farmer’s daughter.”

The senator said agriculture is big business in Arkansas and the U.S. In Arkansas, 270,000 jobs are tied into agriculture and it brings $9 billion into the state.

She told the crowd that President Obama wants to increase American trade to help with the economy and lower the deficit.

“There’s no better place than agriculture,” she said.

There is a bill in the Senate to open up trade with Cuba, she said. “We are coming up on the 50th anniversary of our self-imposed embargo, and it has done all it’s going to do,” she said.

Lincoln is also working on trade agreements to open up trade with Columbia and Japan. “There is no reason our beef shouldn’t be over there,” she said as someone in the crowd shouted, “We’ve not stopped their sales of Toyota.”

She said America was part of a world economy and needed to become more proactive.

On the health-care bill — her vote is considered essential — Lincoln made it clear that the U.S. does need some health-care reform. “We don’t have a good delivery system. It’s broken,” she said.

Lincoln added she was adamantly against the use of the reconciliation process to get the health bill through Congress.

“But health-care reform will happen. I don’t mind it if we step back and take it step by step,” Lincoln said. “We need to look for common ground.”

She said the Senate version of the health-care reform bill was much more conservative than the House version. Lincoln also said she was looking at a smaller bipartisan health-care reform bill that focused on small businesses, an area which she thinks needs immediate help.

She reminded the group that she has spent a lot of time in the “time out” chair for disagreeing with her party.

“The point is that all the things we have done I have done for you. I’m the one standing up and saying you don’t want the extremes,” the senator said.

She jumped on the issue of the estate or death tax, which is an issue on which she and her Democratic opponent Halter differ.

Lincoln explained that as part of a 2001 tax bill, there’s no estate tax this year, “but it will come back with a vengeance next year. The government will tax 55 percent of your net worth after the first million. Companies don’t get taxed when their CEOs die, but you will,” she said.

Lincoln added that a farming family can hit that million dollar mark quickly.

“A new cotton picker is selling for $650,000,” she said. “This tax will break many farmers and small businesses.”

Lincoln said what she proposes is raising the threshold to $5 million and then a 33 percent tax. She is working with Sen. John Kyl (R-Arizona) on this bill and hopes to have it passed by the end of summer.

“I’m rock solid for Arkansas,” she reminded the crowd. “That’s why I’m getting beat up by everyone.”

On Nov. 3, 1998, Lincoln became the youngest woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate at the age of 38. 

She was first elected to public office in 1992 as representative in Arkansas’ First Congressional District.

TOP STORY >> Glover hopes he can keep serving

Leader staff writer

State Sen. Bobby Glover will be out of office at the end of the year because of term limits, but he told members of the Cabot Chamber of Commerce Tuesday during a general membership luncheon that he won’t stop working.

Glover (D-Carlisle), who suffered a stroke less than two years ago, said he had three possibilities for work when his run as senator has ended: a political position that he’s not at liberty to discuss, an appointment on the Highway Commission that he has little hope the governor will grant because those positions are the ones everyone wants, and as a staffer for former state Sen. Tim Wooldridge of Paragould if he is elected to Congress from the First District now represented by Cong. Marion Berry (D-Gillett).

“I want to stay involved and work with the people of Cabot and Lonoke County because I think you are the most wonderful people in the world,” he said.

Although Cabot votes Republican and Glover is a Democrat, he is known as a friend to the city. He reminded the 130 chamber members that he worked with Gov. Mike Beebe in the last session to get the $400,000 in state money that paid for the land where the armory is being built.

As for holding a session mostly to look at the governor’s budget, Glover said he was opposed to doing that. It costs $23,000 a day for a legislative session, he said.

Since the governor is required by law to present a budget that limits spending to the amount of revenue taken in, the legislature is almost bound to approve what the governor gives them, Glover said. And since the governor can call a special session anytime he needs to, a law requiring the legislature to meet every year is unnecessary.

In addition to the budget, the legislature met this year to set the amounts of the college scholarships from the state lottery at $5,000 for four-year schools and $2,500 for two-year schools.

Glover said he is against the lottery.

“Seventy-five percent of those who participate can’t afford it,” he said. “They can’t pay their bills or take care of their kids.”

And he is concerned about the projected $400 million in additional revenue the state is projected to need in two years to continue to support Medicaid.

He won’t be there for the next session when a solution will need to be found, said Glover who has spent the last 35 years either as a state representative or state senator.

State Rep. Davy Carter, R, Cabot, who was also scheduled to speak, was called away to Orlando, Fla., where his employer, Centennial Bank, has purchased seven Old Southern Banks in the area.

His statement about the first fiscal session of the state legislature was read by Corey Williams, president-elect of the Chamber of Commerce, member of the school board and fellow Centennial Bank employee.

“Although I did not initially support the ballot initiative authorizing annual sessions, I do think it was beneficial to analyze the budget during these volatile times,” Carter said in his prepared statement.

“Arkansas has weathered the recession better than almost any other state. We are not, however, without challenges ahead, the biggest of which, in my opinion, is the unsustainable growth in Medicaid expenses.

“To be sure, recent figures indicate that unless we implement significant changes in Medicaid at the state level, we will run an approximate $400 million deficit in two years.

“Although the federal government matches our state dollars three to one, in a state where over 90 percent or our state budget is spent on education, prisons and social services, we simply cannot afford it.

“The governor has said the state can’t provide the needed revenue for Medicaid without cutting funding for schools or prisons or imposing new taxes.

“I, for one, am not in favor of any new taxes,” Carter said.

The chamber met in the dining room of the First Baptist Church to dine on catfish prepared by Crossroads Café.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

TOP STORY >> District seen as racial

Leader staff writer

It is the Joshua Intervenors’ turn in court, as they opened the third week in the hearing on whether Pulaski County Special School District has complied with its desegregation plan and is ready to be released from federal court oversight.

John Walker, attorney for the group representing the interests of the black students in PCSSD, on Monday and Tuesday honed in on school board machinations, decisions about school construction and the district’s performance on compliance with Plan 2000 requirements for reducing racial disparities in academic achievement, discipline and school attendance.

Monday morning proceedings began with a wrangle between Sam Jones, attorney for PCSSD, and Walker, who only that morning had sent new evidence to Jones, an e-mail string among white members of the district’s school board and interim superintendent Rob McGill. Walker sought to demonstrate that board president Tim Clark, board member Charlie Wood and former board member Shana Chaplin were engaging in back-room meetings via e-mail, a violation of school board policy, to advance an agenda that “had a racial intent if not effect,” Walker said.

Walker presented e-mails showing that Wood was pushing others to say that the district had achieved unitary status and that board members needed to make sure that Brenda Bowles, assistant superintendent for equity and pupil services, was in agreement. Walker said that white board members bought off black board member Gwen Williams with offers of trips on behalf of the board.

U.S. District Judge Brian Miller commented, “I am not going to make a determination based on internal fights, but the facts.

Ultimately my decision is not going to be based on feelings or who bought who off.”

Witnesses on Monday and Tuesday included McGill; assistant superintendent for learning services June Elliott; former assistant superintendent over secondary education Bill Barnes; school board member Bill Vasquez, and a former Northwood Middle School student who was shoved several times by a teacher, according to a school security tape. The boy’s mother also took the stand.


Walker sought to demonstrate that construction of Maumelle High School, to replace Oak Grove High School, was a racially motivated move by the school board that wasted district funds.

Several witnesses – McGill, Elliott and Barnes – admitted that the demolition of Oak Grove High School was never in the district building plan nor in any consultant recommendations.

McGill, in answer to Walker’s query about whether the district’s strategic plan or any consultant’s report called for replacement of Oak Grove High School, admitted that it did not, then added in frustration, “But it doesn’t say we can’t, though.”

McGill said that the decision to build a new high school in Maumelle was already in the works when he came on board as interim superintendent a year ago.

Elliott, also a new hire to the district in July 2009, said that Oak Grove High School had a current enrollment of 400 and 700 openings. She said she knew of no study that projected high school enrollment in the area served by Oak Grove High School to exceed 1,100 in the next few years.

When asked if she knew of any written report calling for the demolition of Oak Grove High School, she replied, “No, sir.”

Barnes said that he thought the decision to replace Oak Grove rather than fix it up was not based on “growth, but rather how the facilities looked,” as well as the desire to break the 7th-12th grade school into a middle school and high school.

“Oak Grove has its negatives, but so do all the schools … No one liked all the grades there.” Barnes said.

Walker told the court that the decision to not repair Oak Grove High School, but rather build a new school in Maumelle was the result of an effort by some board members to “re-segregate the district.”

Walker contended that other schools, such as College Station and Harris elementary schools, that are located in areas predominantly populated by blacks have been passed over for repairs while west Pulaski County, Sherwood and Maumelle are getting new schools built.

Walker asked Vasquez how Chenal and Maumelle would feel about a school like College Station in its midst. Vasquez replied,

“Would anybody like to have a 50 year-old-school transplanted to their neighborhood? The answer is no.”

Barnes recalled that when his son, now 29, attended College Station Elementary School, it was in good repair, but said, “It is probably now the worst elementary school in the district. It is probably a waste of money to fix it up.”

Walker tried to prove that the expansion of Pine Forest Elementary School, estimated at $5 million, was a racially biased decision on the part of the school board to cater to Maumelle constituents. He presented 2000 census figures showing that Maumelle has a 5 percent black population. On cross examination, Sam Jones, attorney for PCSSD, presented 2006 census data showing that the black population in Maumelle has increased to almost 10 percent.

Pine Forest Elementary School is 30 years old. Thirty-one percent of its students are black.

In regard to the condition of district schools, Vasquez said, “Twenty-five schools are over 50 years old; 13 are over 40 years old, and five schools have been built in the last 15 years. The schools need a very comprehensive building and renovation plan.”

Barnes, who worked for the district 26 years before being terminated in January, said, “At a time, Jacksonville (High School) was premiere, but we’ve lost control of repairs, as we once did. Schools have kind of gone down.”


Walker hammered on McGill and Elliott about how their knowledge of the court-ordered Plan 2000 desegregation plan, what they or others have done to comply with its requirements and how well district programs were being evaluated for their effectiveness in reducing racial gaps in academic performance, discipline rates and other mandates.

McGill and Elliott said that the district has numerous initiatives and “strategies” in place to meet Plan 2000’s requirement that the educational achievement of all students is improved, with “special attention to African-American students and those at risk of academic failure due to socioeconomic disadvantage and other factors.”

Elliott cited daily enrichment periods at the schools that are tailored to individual students’ gaps in skills, based on assessments that occur throughout the school year. Other initiatives reported include the STAR Academy to help students recover credits and graduate with peers, after-school programs, building audits and professional learning communities to help teachers focus on students’ individual needs, literacy and math intensive programs, freshman academy and Odyssey of the Mind.

“Enumerating something is not the same thing as an evaluation” that looks at outcomes, Walker said.

While the schools and district collect and report data on a plethora of indicators on student academic performance, school attendance, dropout rates, participation in advanced studies and gifted and talented programs, and discipline, neither McGill nor Elliott could point to any analyses of data to tell the district if the programs are making a difference.

Nor could they give evidence that disparities in academic performance or discipline are the focus of cabinet meeting discussions, written memos or other directives from central office.

Elliott said the data show that the racial disparities in academic achievement are narrowing.

Barnes said that the district has lost the momentum of the 1990s and efforts to comply with the desegregation plan are slackening. He said with changeovers in central office personnel, “history” had been lost. There was re-focus in 2000, but since then, “We’ve kind of drifted,” he said. “It seems like we are going backwards in all areas. It seems like we are not focused like we were then.”

Barnes recalled the glory days of Mills High School when he was the principal for 19 years. The school garnered national attention as a top-flight college preparatory high school numerous times, the number of minority teachers exceeded the district average and special efforts, such as Saturday and after-school tutoring, were made to help minority students succeed in advanced courses.

“That went by the wayside,” Barnes said.

Barnes, who started with the district in 1983 and was the director of secondary education from 2006 to January of this year, said he knew of no effort on the part of the district to establish a biracial committee for scholarships.

At one point, Jones took issue with the reports from the Office of Desegregation Monitoring, calling them “hyperbole.”

“I am not disputing their authenticity, but some portions are not supported by the evidence,” Jones said.


During a court recess, Barnes that he was terminated because he backed Mike Nellums, former principal of the Jacksonville Boys Middle School, rather than agree with the school board that Nellums should be fired.

“I didn’t want to be raked over the coals in the paper,” Barnes said. “I spoke at his hearing at the Oct. 6 board meeting. The next day, it was ‘go after old Barnes because we can’t get Nellums.’ I wasn’t planning on retiring early.”

McGill conducted an investigation into accusations leveled at Nellums by teachers. Walker charged that race was the motivating factor in the superintendent taking on an investigation of a secondary-level principal rather than leave it to the director of secondary education, who was Barnes. Both Barnes and Nellums are black. McGill is white.

“I thought the information was serious enough to keep confidential to protect him and the school,” McGill said.

The board voted 4-3 to terminate Nellums, but later transferred him to Mills High School, where he is now the principal.


A former Northwood Middle School honor student took the stand to talk about an incident in which English teacher Melissa Moore shoved him several times after he talked back to her when she called him “psycho” as he and friends danced in the hallway. The incident was caught on security tape.

The boy is black, the teacher is white. McGill said that the boy was “big and the teacher very small.”

The boy testified that he is 5’5” and weighed 100 pounds at the time of the incident.

The boy’s mother testified that she had had her son removed from Moore’s class earlier in the year after she had “mimicked him,” when he put his head down on his desk and cried during a writing exercise. At the time, he was grieving the death of his cousin and was on the counselors’ “watch” because he had “shut down” after the loss.

The Northwood principal, who sought to have the teacher disciplined, was transferred the next year to serve as principal at Jacksonville Girls Middle School. The school board unanimously voted against McGill’s recommendation that the teacher be terminated.

The incident inflamed white teachers and the teachers union. Thirty white teachers rallied in support of Moore.

McGill said he transferred the principal “so faculty could put it behind them … (and) so students could concentrate on their studies.”

“Doesn’t this send the message that when a black principal disciplines a white teacher … that the black principal is mostly likely to be disciplined?” Walker asked rhetorically.

Walker contended that school board member Charlie Wood tried to influence McGill with petitions from white teachers before Moore’s personnel hearing, prompting this commentary from Judge Brian Miller:

“Charlie Wood is the district busy-body. Every district has one. We all know those people, and he is that person – running around, doing investigations, sending e-mails, trying to get everybody to do what he wants them to do.”