A Proposal For Parents
By Ganelle Holman
When I was 9 years old at Washington Elementary, my best girlfriends told me they didn’t want to be my friend anymore because I liked white people more than black people. Not two years later, my parents sold our house on 20th and Arch streets, then bought a one-level with a big yard off Pebble Beach Drive in West Little Rock. When I transferred to Fulbright Elementary, with one semester left before junior high, my teacher told my mother that I’d need additional tutoring because I came from a school on the south end of the district. In fact, I was a full textbook ahead of her class in mathematics. The gifted and talented program at Fulbright paled in comparison to what I’d known at Washington, and I coasted through that semester learning nothing that I remember.
By the time I got to Forest Heights Junior High, I was praying on the way to school, “Please, God, let me make friends with black girls.” In the absence of academic rigor, my need for acceptance trumped my interest in studying. At Little Rock Central High, I was quite prepared academically for college but drove home alone on graduation night, missed by no one. The result of having dark skin and drifting between social spaces as a child in the Little Rock School District is that I have very little expectation that someone will treat me well based on the color of their skin. I have had to extend both apologies and forgiveness to people as necessary, regardless of color.
Now I’m a parent of a 3-year-old in the LRSD, and I have every intention of staying that way for the next 15 years. I’ve been talking to parents all over the city about the state takeover, and themes have emerged which I find remarkable. First, people are having a hard time knowing what to say. I’ve heard, “I don’t know enough about what’s going on,” or “My kids aren’t in public school,” or “I feel like I may say the wrong thing.” Second, our community already possesses the resources to build a world-class school district: money, teachers, creativity and leadership abound. Third, and this may be what is different from 1957 — we all want the same things for our kids. This time around, most parents really would love to send their kids to school with other children who aren’t like them. Finally, when we do get the district back, we have to succeed together.
The details of the LRSD state takeover are hairy and messy, but the fundamental principle is not. My child should have access to world-class public education and so should yours. That is all. If you have questions, you don’t need permission to ask them, even if your kids don’t go to public school. If you live in Little Rock and you are paying both private school tuition and property taxes, you have a right to know the money you contribute affords an excellent education to the children it serves. Everyone prefers a good school in their neighborhood over bussing their child across town. That’s the thing about equity — everyone gets exactly what suits their specific needs. I am offering that supplying those needs may be easier than we think.
What if we — this generation — could help heal Little Rock from the last several decades of racial trauma? Could we give each other enough grace to see that none of us would knowingly risk our child’s education if we thought they were in danger, academically or otherwise? Could parents, citywide, discern a plan for what to do with our kids, should the district not be returned to local control? That kind of public solidarity might even prevent the need to implement it.
Say we did have the hard conversations and got the district back by coming together of one accord. Wouldn’t it be easier then to pass a millage increase, in agreement, about how that money would be spent? The LRSD has a tax base of $3.8 billion. Our current millage rate is 46.4. That’s over $177 million in annual tax revenue for our schools. The NLRSD and Jacksonville/North Pulaski both have millage rates at 48.3. And doesn’t the district have current bonds that can be restructured from the 2017 failed bid? If so, a ballot proposal with a very modest 1.9 mill increase coupled with a bond restructuring could net the district several hundreds of millions of dollars. A mill is one one-thousandth of a percentage point … like a millennia. Call me a dreamer, but I believe the majority of $200,000 property owners in Little Rock might accept, say, an $80 annual increase? Certainly so, if they knew that every kid in the district had a world-class neighborhood school, with competitive teacher salaries, adequate staffing and the resources needed to excel.
We have our own children now, many of them with a decade or more remaining before high school graduation. We’re making long-term decisions about education today that will affect this city for generations. Some people are never going to send their kids to a public district. Some people understand the necessity of public education for democracy and are still asking, “Are you going private or charter?” They are unsure, and they simply aren’t willing to risk their child’s education to figure it out.
As I work through my own racist thoughts about myself and others, I can understand the urge to devalue another person’s pain. Black people are disproportionately affected by the racist policies that created our status quo, and white people have benefited from that inequity. I believe the pain I experience as a result of that fact hurts more than yours does, because I don’t think we are the same. But, in fact, we are. We want the same opportunities for the entire district, without blame or animosity from people on the other side of I-630. A millage increase won’t fix that, but uniting toward a common goal will. I owe my capacity for justness to my experience in the Little Rock School District, and I am not alone. I will fight for your right to a world-class community-based school, if you will mine.
Ganelle Holman is the owner of The Giovanna Group—strategic consultants committed to increasing the transformational capacity of organizations through evidence-based decisions about mission, equity and outcomes. She is a public servant and the mother of super princess Bronx Giovanna Blake. For more info visit thegiovannagroup.com.