By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian
Five months into a racial discrimination lawsuit against the Arkadelphia School District, the school board voted unanimously to reject the plaintiffs’ demands for a $50,000 settlement.
The Arkadelphia Board of Education on Tuesday heard from Cody Kees, an attorney representing the district on behalf of the Arkansas School Board Association, who informed the school board it had a few options before a jury trial in February 2023. The proposed settlement could have been rejected or accepted, the board could have proposed a counter offer, or it could have authorized its insurance company for negotiations.
School boards that are targets of similar lawsuits “generally” opt for their insurance companies to negotiate, Kees said. However, he pointed out, there is a “pretty good percentage” of those lawsuits that are dismissed. Choosing the fourth option would have allowed the school board to meet privately with a mediator, although the board would have had to vote on the agreed-upon settlement in a public setting.
Matt Johnson motioned to reject the settlement demand. Following a second from Clark Tennyson, there was much discussion about the options. Board president Blake Bell inquired if there was a “sense of urgency” on voting. Kees replied he needed to know whether the ASBA should continue defending the district or if the case could be settled out of court via insurance mediators. “We are in the midst of it, and we need to know how to resolve it or defend it,” Kees said.
Kees also fielded questions and jargon-laden comments from Gina White, an attorney herself, regarding the options the school board had.
Kenneth Harris pointed out that taking the settlement route would reflect poorly on the school district because of public perception. “To me it sounds like we might be guilty as a district” if the school board settled out of court, Harris said. “If we did what was right, then we have no reason to fear. If we didn’t do it right, then we ought to know that so we don’t make that mistake again.” Kees noted that attorneys representing the school district have not found anything in the case that would push the district toward an early resolution.
The motion to reject the settlement carried unanimously.
AHS roof repair
The school board in May approved a $62,194 expenditure for an emergency roof repair at Arkadelphia High School. On Tuesday the board gave the nod to an additional $60,713 for yet another roof repair at the high school.
Jimmy King, the district’s director of support services, noted the high school currently has buckets in classrooms to catch rainwater that drips from the roof.
The repair was included in this year’s budget, according to district business manger Tammy Barger.
Following a 15-minute executive session to discuss personnel matters, the school board reconvened in public to accept the following recommendations:
Stephen Watson, interim assistant band director, Goza
Melissa Miller, special education paraprofessional
Superintendent Nikki Thomas reported to the board that asbestos abatement at the old Peake Elementary School campus will begin on Oct. 15. The five-week process will precede demolition. Bids for demolition and building contractors will take place on Oct. 13, Thomas said.