AG Chief Of Staff Says Superintendent Suggs A Catalyst For Settlement

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 258 views 

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel’s chief of staff Erika Gee said new Little Rock Superintendent Dr. Dexter Suggs was a crucial catalyst in the recent desegregation settlement that received preliminary approval from a federal judge on Friday.

Appearing on KARK Ch. 4’s Capitol View, Gee said that Suggs pushed for an agreement to resolve the three-decades old case early in his tenure, which started this year.

“Attorney General McDaniel has been trying to reach some sort of resolution since 2007 in this case,” said Gee, who helped negotiate the deal. “The most recent efforts were really started by Dr. Suggs in the Little Rock School District. He came into his position, and came in to meet the General, and immediately asked his attorney to set up a meeting so we could sit down and start talking about it. That’s what initiated it this time.”

On Friday, federal judge Price Marshall gave a preliminary thumbs up to the agreement, which will result in the state paying the Little Rock, North Little Rock, and Pulaski County Special School Districts approximately $65 million a year for the next four years.

Judge Marshall called for a public comment period to receive feedback from the community, which will be reviewed in a “fairness” hearing in January.

Gee said she didn’t expect any major objections to the settlement from the general public.

“I think everyone involved in this case has tried very hard to satisfy the concerns that their constituents had during the process, to make sure that when we got to this point everything had been addressed, everything had been resolved to the extent it’s possible to do so,” Gee said.

State Senators Jane English (R-North Little Rock) and David Johnson (D-Little Rock) were also guests on Capitol View.

Sen. English said that initial reaction from the Arkansas General Assembly was relief that a conclusion may be settled.

“I think for legislators who aren’t from this area, they are more than happy to see this come to a conclusion, or a possible conclusion, so that these districts can be districts just like Camden or Hot Springs or any other school district around the state,” Sen. English said.

The state’s desegregation payments, which will roughly be $65 million annually, will eventually stop flowing to the three school districts by FY 2019.

Under legislation pushed by Gov. Mike Beebe (D) and approved by the state legislature, that desegregation money will eventually be tied to the final repeal of the grocery tax – a major policy initiative of the Governor’s tax cut agenda.

Sen. Johnson said he doesn’t see any alteration of that deal once the money becomes available.

“I don’t think so. That was the deal. When the desegregation payments are finished, that’s when the final installment of the grocery tax [cut] kicks in. I think that will happen,” Sen. Johnson said.

You can watch interviews from all guests below.