Thursday, April 23, 2015

Hughes School District Vindicated in Discrimination Cases

HUGHES- United States District Judge Kristine Baker found three separate claims of racial discrimination filed by former of employees of the Hughes School District to be without merit and granted the district's motion for summary judgment in the cases, which were consolidated together.

Phyllis Langford, Michael Manning, and Dovie Wolf each alleged that the school district engaged in racially discriminatory behavior when each of them lost their jobs with the district.  Manning and Wolf's positions had been eliminated as the district's implemented its reduction in force policy for financial reasons.  Langford refused to turn in the contract she was offered.

Hughes School District Attorney James F. Valley called the ruling, "a slam dunk."  He said, "This victory for the Hughes School District could not have been more decisive.  The court agreed with the district on each and every legal question raised in this case.  The Hughes School District acted in accordance with the law and the court agreed there was no basis for the allegations of discrimination.  In short, these plaintiffs did not and never had a case."

Superintendent Sheryl Owens was also pleased.  She said, "The Hughes School District does not mistreat employees.  We treat our people fairly.  We always have, and we always will.  We are all united behind two colors- the Blue and White that represents our school district. 

In a separate case, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request from attorneys representing former Superintendent Ray Nassar for attorney's fees in his lawsuit against the district over his termination.  The Eighth Circuit previously reduced the amount awarded to Nassar in that dispute by $100,000.00.  The panel found that the attorneys for Nassar did not meet required deadlines for making their claim.

Valley added, "These are two significant victories in federal court in one day.  The Hughes School District has been vindicated in three instances and seen the damages awarded substantially limited in a fourth.  This shows that the allegations against the school district have always been a farce perpetuated by disgruntled former employees throwing a tantrum."

This school district now has only one pending case.  It was filed for the second time by Mary Ann Davis, a current district teacher/bus driver. Her suit involves a request for increased pay for altered bus routes. The first suit was dismissed by St. Francis County District Court Judge Steve Routon.  "We intend to vigorously defend this meritless case too," said Superintendent Sheryl Owens.

"Now, our projected year-end balance should be right around $2,000,000.00 (Two Million Dollars). This is only possible because we have been making the right choices and treating people fairly in our district." Owens continued.

The Hughes School District has been ordered by the Arkansas Department of Education to consolidate with the West Memphis School District.  An appeal of that order is widely expected.  When asked about the consolidation issue, Valley said, "Mrs. Owens and I will have more to say on that issue at a later date."

Thursday, February 26, 2015

HWHSD Schools Closed Today (inclement weather)

James F. Valley  

(888)225-0811 Tollfree Phone and Fax
(870)228-9002 Direct Dial and Text Messages

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cougars and Marvell Hold Charity Basketball Scrimmage for Food Pantry

From left:  JP Patrick Roberson, representing
the Food Pantry, CHS Ad Russell Smith, and
CHS Employee Vernetha Jackson with the
food donated at the charity scrimmage at CHS.
The Helena-West Helena Central Cougars and the Marvell Mustangs held a charity basketball scrimmage to collect food for the local food pantry in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday.   The effort led to a donation of over 320 cans of food from the Cougar Nation and Mustang Fans.

Central Athletic Director Russell Smith was impressed with the generosity shown by Cougar Fans.  He said, "I am always impressed at how generous our people are. We have many good people to work with and who support our teams.  I appreciate Coach Thrower and Coach McGruder at Marvell for working with us on this and look forward to having them back for our Christmas tournament next month."

The donation is the second such effort to collect for the food pantry by CHS Athletics this year.  Earlier, the Coach Smith's football team held an intrasquad scrimmage for that purpose as well.  Justice of the Peace and City Treasurer Patrick Roberson expressed his gratitude on behalf of the food pantry.  He said, "Central has been an awesome supporter of our work.  I appreciate Coach Smith working to making these events happen because the donations are very important to the efforts of the food pantry."

School Board President Andrew Bagley praised the efforts of the Central staff for showing the community how caring Cougar Nation is.  He said, "I am proud to be able to work with good people doing good work who set an example for how we should serve others.  Coach Smith and the basketball coaching staff should be commended for setting up this event and I want to thank the Cougar Fans and the Marvell fans for showing up on a cold night to make their donation and watch some exciting basketball.  Great things are happening every day in HWHSD."

Thursday, November 13, 2014

KIPP Staff Accosted at Gunpoint; School Faces Bomb Threat

According to multiple sources, multiple KIPP staff were held up last week at gunpoint as they arrived at the school.  According to those sources, the staff members arrived to the KIPP campus on foot when the alleged assailant appeared and pulled the gun on them.  Also, according to the sources, the HWHPD is investigating the situation.

Another set of sources reported that the emergency personnel responded to the school yesterday to investigate a bomb threat.  Apparently, no explosives were found.

For years, the well-oiled public relations machine backed by big dollars at the quasi-private charter school has marketed itself by saying it is safe and falsely implying that the public schools were not.  These incidents show that is not the case  and give parents yet another reason to choose HWHSD over the charter school.

Given the charter school's reputation for controlling the flow of information from inside its walls, it makes one wonder what incidents we haven't heard about.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

KIPP Schools Slapped with "Needs Improvement" Status

Despite crafting a public relations campaign to suggest superior academics, the KIPP Delta Charter Schools have been declared a Needs Improvement School by the Arkansas Department of Education. 
From the school's own website as it appeared today, "KIPP Delta Public Schools were recently designated as Needs Improvement Schools by the Arkansas Department of Education."  This designation is a result of test scores not meeting the targets set by the Arkansas Department of Education.
This provides the community with another piece of evidence that quasi-private charter schools are not offering a superior experience and that communities should focus their energy and resources on maintaining a quality public school system as part of their efforts to insure positive movement toward economic and community development.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

An Open Letter to the Patrons and Supporters of the Helena-West Helena School District

Dear Patrons and Supporters of the Helena-West Helena School District: 
For several months, many of you have contacted me with immense concern about the future of several of the district’s school buildings, particularly West Side, Beechcrest, and Woodruff.  I want you to know that I, along with a majority of our board members, have approached this issue with the utmost concern and with a mindset to act in accordance with what is in the best interests of the Helena-West Helena School District and its students.  I am writing this open letter to our patrons and supporters so that they can be fully informed as this state-imposed process concerning the buildings progresses. 

First, let me begin with some of the legalities related to this issue.  Contrary to what some people lobbying for the charter school have contended, the district does not have to sell any property.  The statutes that would force a sale for nonuse only apply to school districts that consolidated under the ACT 60 legislation that was passed in the wake of the Lakeview case.  Helena-West Helena has not been involved in any consolidation under the provisions of that law.  Consequently, it does not apply to our buildings and we have a legal opinion from the widely-respected school attorney Brad Beavers on this matter. 
However, if the district were to decide to sell a building, then the charter school would have a right of first refusal to purchase the buildings at fair market value, which Mr. Beavers told our Board should be determined by an appraisal.  I asked the state-appointed Superintendent, Mr. John Hoy, if we planned to get appraisals on the buildings so that we would have some guidance when making our recommendations concerning any bids.  He informed me that there were no plans to get appraisals at this time.   

Second, let’s summarize where the situation is as of today.  The state-appointed Superintendent, whose previous job was with the Arkansas Department of Education, began advertising for bids on all of the aforementioned district properties.  This is happening over the objection of the local board, which has a majority opposed to selling most of the district’s property.  The only property that we are on record as considering for sale is West Side and that consideration was to possibly sell to the West Side Community Hub, a nonprofit organization that would be working with our students in addition to their other programming. 

This group began working with our previous Superintendent, Suzann McCommon, who, while state-appointed, has lived in our community for over 40 years and who began her career in the Helena-West Helena School District.  She rose to the position of Special Education Director in the Helena-West Helena School District before becoming the founding director of the Great Rivers Education Cooperative.  In the three years she served us as the district's top executive, I always believed she put HWHSD first and stood her ground on our behalf when dealing with Little Rock.   

She and the West Side Community Hub worked together on a plan.  The West Side group has a detailed plan for use of the building and a sustainability plan for maintaining the structure.  The district had a right of first refusal if the group ever wanted to sell the building and no competing school was going to be allowed in the building as a condition of the low-cost sale.  It was a win-win for the district and the group.  They got the building and we received programming for our kids. 

This move was stopped at the Arkansas Department of Education.  Shortly after Ms. McCommon’s return to Great Rivers, Mr. Hoy received a letter from Scott Shirey, KIPP's leader, asking to see the buildings, including West Side.  Mr. Hoy asked for permission to show the buildings.  We said no because we were not interested in selling any of the other properties, which meant there was no need to show them to the director of a competing school.   

At a later meeting, Mr. Hoy asked for permission to put the buildings on the market.  His recommendation never received a second.  After that meeting, he went to Little Rock and either received permission or an order from Tony Wood, the Commissioner of Education, to put the buildings on the market, which is where we stand today.  The buildings, which were constructed and paid for by the Helena-West Helena School District, are being put up for the equivalent of  a fire sale in a bad real estate market with the consent of two people- the Commissioner of Education, who is likely going to be gone in January when the State of Arkansas gets a new Governor,  and the ADE- appointed Superintendent.
Third, there needs to be a discussion of why a majority of the local board opposed putting the buildings on the market.  The school district does not have a complete long-term facilities plan and there are possible uses that had been discussed for some of the buildings.  Even some members of the West Side group had discussed options where the district maintained ownership and allowed them to use the building for various programming.  Two options have been briefly discussed over the past year for Beechcrest.  One was the possibility of moving the administration offices to that location since that would more centrally locate the top administrators.  Also, the office building where they currently are housed would be easier to sell than a school building because it is smaller with a more diverse set of possibilities for use.  Another option for Beechcrest property that had even been briefly mentioned by the state-appointed Superintendent in his first 100 days was reopening the campus for the lower elementary grades since we are near capacity at the primary school. 

As you can see, the board wanted time to complete the development of a long-term facilities plan with the consultation of the district’s architect and the new Superintendent before simply unloading the property.  I think that would have been prudent. 

Another important consideration for us was KIPP’s right of first refusal.  We have seen with the growing political pressure to move on these buildings since the arrival of Mr. Hoy and with KIPP’s own letters of interest, presentations on this subject to a legislative committee, and with their alleged lobbying in the highest halls of state government, that this appears to be an effort to ram through the transfer of a building to them while we do not have local control and before the elections where a new Governor might pick a different Commissioner at the Arkansas Department of Education. 

With that in mind, I think it is important to note that as the board appointed to provide a voice to the local district’s patrons, it is our primary responsibility to consider the best interests of the school district and our students.  These schools are located in neighborhoods where we have stronger enrollment.  If KIPP were to get a building and increase their seating capacity and have a campus on the western side of the city, then we would have to be concerned about a loss of enrollment because of the charter school putting an operation within walking distance of those families, which have stuck with the district through the closure of these schools and the consolidation of previous elementary schools on the Miller campus.   

Let’s assume for a moment a conservative loss of enrollment of just 30 kids.  That represents over $210000 per year and those kids would be in school for 13 years.  That is $2.73 million.  The number would likely rise for a few years.  In short, if the charter school gets a building then it is a decision that will be negatively impacting the school district after I am dead and gone and one that will have cost us millions of dollars.  That’s not in the best interests of our school district or the students we serve.  I cannot in good conscience support anything that would hurt our district and wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I ever voted for something that would betray the interests of our schools and the students we are entrusted to educate. 
In closing, I do not believe that a decision of this magnitude should be made by one man in Little Rock and implemented by one man who works for him who does not answer to the community.  This is a decision that should be delayed until local control is returned and the various opinions amongst our local community can be heard. 

KIPP is trying to kick us while we are down and use a state takeover to obtain a building for pennies when they have the support of fat cats who could build them their own buildings.  They get money from large donors who don't give the public schools a dime.  To try and use our misfortune to take a building in these circumstances isn’t morally right even if it is legally allowed.     

This entire exercise is just another example that, while KIPP's supporters say this is about competition, it is really about the destruction of public education because you cannot have a competition when the two sides play by different rules.  KIPP can hire people that HWHSD can't to be teachers.  KIPP can fire people without due process while HWHSD must follow the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act.  KIPP can hire a person with only a Bachelors degree to be the equivalent of a Superintendent while HWHSD must have someone certified with the equivalent of a Masters plus 30 hours.  KIPP can kick out students for virtually no reason with minimal due process.  HWHSD has to follow lots of state laws that are waived for KIPP in this area.  KIPP can cap enrollment to limit expenditures.  HWHSD cannot and must add staff regardless of cost even if it is just one student over the limit for a teacher to have in a day.  As you can see, this isn't a level playing field and now KIPP is wanting to get a building that belongs to HWHSD when HWHSD couldn't get the state to give them one of theirs if we needed or wanted it.  We would have to build if we needed space.  KIPP should have to do the same. 

I take seriously my responsibility to represent the Helena-West Helena School District, our students, and our patrons.  I taught at Central High School. My late Grandmother worked many years for the Helena-West Helena School District.  I have two grandchildren who live with me enrolled in our schools.  I love the district, and as long as I am breathing I will not betray our district regardless of how much political pressure is brought to bear.  Our kids deserve the best and what they are seeing with this matter is that there are a lot of powerful people who aren’t considering what’s best for them and their schools and are considering the desires of the rich and the powerful who are seeking to dismantle public education in the name of choice and competition.  I encourage you to contact the Superintendent, the Commissioner of the Arkansas Department of Education, and our state legislators- Representative Chris Richey and Senator Keith Ingram and express your thoughts on this matter. 
Andrew Bagley 
President, HWHSD Advisory School Board

Monday, October 13, 2014

Bagley Reelected School Board President

School Board President Andrew Bagley
At their regular board meeting Monday night, the Helena-West Helena School District Board reelected Andrew Bagley as its President with out opposition.  Doug Friedlander was reelected Vice-President and Marvin Jarrett was elected Secretary.

After the meeting, Bagley said he was humbled by the confidence his colleagues showed in his continued leadership of the school board.  He said, "I have been honored to serve in this position and look forward to continuing our work on behalf of HWHSD and its children during the coming year.  We have accomplished many things and are focused on making sure that the district continues to move forward as we prepare for the eventual return of local control."

Bagley added, "We have seen the district restored to financial stability over the past three years.  We have seen the technology capacity of the district upgraded substantially and we have seen several facility improvements.  There have been some test score gains, and I am proud of the work we have done.  I am hopeful that we can finish the requirements imposed by the state due to the fiscal distress designation within the remaining 20 months that the state could choose to keep control under the fiscal distress law.  I am hopeful that our community is ready for a return to local control."

In other business, the district approved reports from the campuses, the Superintendent, and concerning the budget for the upcoming year.  The board also heard a presentation from retired Principal Earnest Simpson regarding the future of the Westside campus.  The board is on record as supporting working with the Westside Community Hub, a nonprofit organization, on preserving the building and allowing the group to house its programs there and is working to overcome legal hurdles to make that possible.