Posted 10/16/2013 07:14 am
Updated 9 months ago
LITTLE ROCK - A proposal by the Little Rock School District to phase out desegregation payments it receives from Arkansas is a "non-starter," Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said Tuesday, because it attaches too many conditions.
McDaniel told a legislative panel he'd received an offer from the district that would end the payments from the state under a 1989 agreement.
That agreement requires Arkansas to fund magnet schools, transfers between districts and other programs to support desegregation and keep a racial balance in the Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County school districts. Those costs add up to about $70 million a year.
The Little Rock School District would be paid $42.4 million a year over the next seven years or a lump sum payment of more than $297 million, according to a copy of the proposal provided by the district's attorney.
"Unless you order me to do it, I will not accept any settlement that includes conditions other than a simple dollar amount," McDaniel told members of the House and Senate education committees. "Because if there is any condition in it, the record has proven this school district will fight us and litigate us about it until the end of time."
The conditions in the proposal include a provision that the district would not be subject to sanctions for fiscal, academic or facilities distress and would prevent the state from taking or consolidating the district during the seven-year period. It also would prevent the state from retaliating against Little Rock schools because of the desegregation litigation, a provision McDaniel was concerned about because it didn't define what would be considered retaliatory.
The district would also agree to drop its lawsuit that claims Arkansas' approval of charter schools in Pulaski County violates the desegregation agreement. A federal appeals court is considering that case.
The offer was made as the state prepares to go to trial in December over its effort to end the desegregation payments. Arkansas has argued that the payments are no longer necessary because North Little Rock and Little Rock have been declared fully unitary - or substantially desegregated - and Pulaski County schools have been declared partially unitary.
McDaniel later told reporters he viewed the proposal as a positive step and said it's the first time the state has received an offer in writing from the district.
Chris Heller, an attorney for the Little Rock school district, said he was encouraged by McDaniel saying he planned to respond in good faith to the offer and didn't view him calling it a "non-starter" as closing the door on negotiations.
"I think that it's always expected in settlement negotiations that there are going to be aspects of a proposal that the other side isn't willing to agree to," Heller said.
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