Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

TOP STORY >> AG: End school suit

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel wants a settlement for Pulaski County schools soon.

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

If the Little Rock School District continues to drag its feet to get more money out of the final desegregation settlement, all three county school districts may find the state’s generous offer of financial support withdrawn, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel told Jacksonville Rotarians on Monday.

Without going into details, he also said that he favors a standalone Jacksonville school district.

Under former state Rep. Will Bond’s leadership, the General Assembly has authorized the attorney general’s office to negotiate a generous phase out of the desegregation support over as many as seven years.

But without an agreement on the money, U.S. District Judge Brian Miller could declare the two remaining districts — Pulaski
County Special School District and North Little Rock — unitary, without requiring the state to continue for a time desegregation funding, according to McDaniel.

Little Rock, North Little Rock and PCSSD districts currently split about $60 million a year in supplemental desegregation funding, with Little Rock getting the lion’s share. But if the districts and the attorney general’s office can’t reach an agreement, such support — amounting to $500 million — could dry up overnight instead of being phased out gradually, McDaniel said.

At the Sept. 30 desegregation hearing—the first in more than two years—Miller asked the Little Rock School District, which has already been declared desegregated, why it still had standing and interest in the case.

That district’s attorney told the judge, in so many words, that Little Rock’s interest was money.

“The (Little Rock) school board meetings don’t discuss our settlement offer,” McDaniel told Rotary.

He said that instead they talk about the effect of charter schools on the desegregation agreement.

“That’s a red herring,” McDaniel said.

“They don’t have a leg to stand on,” he added.

“I have half a billion dollars to wind it down,” said McDaniel. “I want to protect the children.”

But he said he wants the school districts to agree on “a date certain and an amount certain.”

McDaniel said the Joshua Intervenors, represented by attorney John Walker, have served notice they will oppose findings of unitary status for PCSSD and North Little Rock.But based upon the 8th U.S. District Court of Appeals ruling regarding unitary status already granted to the Little Rock district, he doesn’t believe the intervenors have a very strong case.

He said he was proud to have run the payday lenders out of the state. “It took Georgia four-and a half years. It took us 15 weeks. That speaks well for (my staff).”

He said he also was suing the perpetrators of car warranty scams, one of whom had the bad fortune to try to sell him a warranty when he answered the phone at a family member’s house.

“I intend to make them think twice before they try to prey on consumers in Arkansas,” he said.

Earlier in the meeting, McDaniel joked that he had spent much of the weekend looking for a way to bring suit against the Southeast Conference football officials who cost the Razorbacks the game against top-ranked Florida.