Inside the shadowy world of the Arkansas school-“choice” movement – Part 5

When people ask what newsrooms are like, I usually explain the environment and dynamics thusly: 

Imagine that every day represents a holiday dinner and that every single person in your lovably quirky yet highly dysfunctional family is present. 

There’s camaraderie, yes. Lots of shared recollections and laughter. There are debates during “budget meetings” – the twice-a-day gatherings during which editors decide what stories will run and in what sections. Those contentious meetings often reminded me of the moment that politics creeps into the Thanksgiving-dinner conversation. 

At deadline, you’ll hear editors and reporters arguing over cuts, quotes and edits, and the copy desk staff shouting that they need that story right now, dammit. 

Regardless, the paper gets put to bed and everyone comes back the next day for another lively turkey dinner. 

I always thought that the corporate world would be more … well, refined. 

My three years at the Walton-funded Arkansas Public School Resource Center proved otherwise. 

In the rough-and-tumble world of newspapering, women learn early what it takes to get ahead – and stay ahead – of their male colleagues. You outthink them, outdrink them and outrun them. And, eventually, you not only earn, but demand, their respect. 

That is why the culture at APSRC caught me off-guard. I always thought that the corporate world – and make no mistake: APSRC, while a nonprofit, is very much a corporate and political organization – would be different. 

By the end of my first year, I realized, however, that APSRC Executive Director Scott Smith has a major problem with women. As in, if Webster’s ever asked me to write the definition of “misogynist,” I would need only two words: “Scott Smith.”

In this post, I am sharing only my experiences with Smith because these are my stories to tell. I say that because I am not the only woman who has had issues with him. The fact that Smith has a problem with women is well known even by those who don’t work for APSRC.

The Waltons, of course, don’t care. Smith is just the sort of ruthless person they need to accomplish their goal of destroying public education. 

So my story –

Three times in team meetings, Smith put his hand on my knee while making some sort of point. I didn’t interpret it as a sexual gesture. Rather, his behavior struck me as proprietary. 

You belong to me. You belong to this organization. You belong to the Waltons. You are company property. 

Bear in mind, this is a man who would call meetings, only to cancel at the last minute if something came up, and yet throw a tantrum if when, on a whim, he wanted to talk to a female employee who had left the office for lunch.

He complained incessantly when female employees called in sick or had to accommodate the needs of their children – illness, doctor’s appointments, etc…

He once mocked one of his female employees for missing several days of work after suffering a severe concussion.

“I don’t know what’s going on with her this time,” he announced to a group of us. “Something about getting hit on the head with a vase. It’s always something.”

You see, there are different rules at APSRC for men and women.

For example, men are allowed to close the doors to their offices. Women? No. I can’t tell you how many times Smith would find a reason to knock on my door, ask a question and then very pointedly leave the door open. 

And then there was the tracking of employees’ leave and sick time. Women – most of whom are mothers or caring for elderly family members – are closely monitored, questioned and criticized – so much so that I told my husband that Smith’s obsession with knowing his female employees’ every move came across as creepy and stalkerish. And God help you if you didn’t reply to an email or respond to a phone call while out sick, on vacation or in bed. 

Again, Smith’s paranoia didn’t seem to stem from sexual origins. It was like he thought his female employees were out sneaking around to huddle in illicit meetings with politicians, educators and foes of APSRC. That kind of paranoia suggests to me that Smith, the Waltons and their backers have many things to hide. Or maybe he just believes that women are lazy or incompetent. I honestly don’t know. It was just … weird. 

On one occasion, I mixed up the dates for an Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)  meeting I had intended to cover. As I sheepishly made my way back from the Capitol to APSRC, I heard someone calling my name. 

It was Smith. 

“What are you doing here?” he asked in an urgent manner. 

“Oh, hey,” I said. “What’s up?”

“Why are you here?” he pressed. “Who were you meeting with?”

“Um. No one. I thought there was an ESSA meeting today. But it turns out it’s next week.”

This explanation seemed to (temporarily) satisfy him. 

In the end, two incidents served as the catalyst for my sudden decision to quit. 

In May 2019, I underwent a partial knee replacement. Smith was not happy about the two weeks I took off for the surgery and recovery. The fact that I then had to go twice a week for an hour of physical therapy pissed him off even more. 

Apparently, osteoarthritis is the equivalent of female “hysteria” or “weakness.” 

At the first staff meeting after my return, Smith pointedly asked if anyone else would need to take significant time off over the summer. (I resisted a maniacal, just-for-kicks  urge to announce an unexpected pregnancy. He probably would have found or manufactured a reason to fire me on the spot.) 

A few weeks into my physical therapy, Walters informed me that she didn’t have my SAU HR  password. That’s because months earlier, when I forgot my password, I had changed it. I had no idea that Walters, by her own admission, knew the log-ins and passwords for every APSRC employee. 

“I just want to make sure you have enough leave time to cover these appointments,” she said. 

“I planned ahead, I assured her. “I’m good.” 

Bear in mind, I had given her the dates of my physical therapy appointments. It’s not like she was checking with HR to see when I would be out.

Still, she sent multiple email requests for my new password. 

Remember, per the MOU between APSRC and the Southern Arkansas University Foundation, SAU’s HR staff is charged with keeping up with leave and sick time. However, one of Walters’ primary duties is to keep Smith informed of employees’ whereabouts, whether she’s monitoring arrival and departure times from the office or leave and sick time. 

Toward the end – or maybe right after, I don’t recall – the 2019 legislative session – I was exhausted and in chronic pain. In short, I was struggling. By then, I was counting down the days to my surgery and using a cane around the house. (I was too vain to take it to work.) 

One morning, after I had called in to say I would be using sick time to come in late, Smith came into my office to inquire after my well-being. I told him I was managing. 

And then he walked around my desk and stood behind me. He put his hand on my shoulder, squeezed it, and said, “I was beginning to think I would have to fire you.”

That male hand on my shoulder clinched my decision that it was time to get out of there. 

Because here’s the thing – there is no way to get help from HR if you are a woman working for Smith at APSRC. 

I thought long and hard about my predicament. SAU’s HR staff work for the university, which is located in Magnolia, a good 115 miles away. Was I supposed to drive down there to file a grievance with people I’d never talked to, much less met? Should I just call? Email? 

And from what I’d heard, the HR department wasn’t terribly thrilled with the fact that its staff had had to add APSRC to its workload back in 2012.

I imagined a scenario in which I swept in to file a complaint, only to find the Waltons’ enforcer, Kathy Smith, on hand to inform SAU staff as to how they should respond. You think I kid. Kathy sees all, knows all, and has an ability to materialize at any moment that the Waltons and their yes men might be the recipients of criticism.

Granted, I suffer from PTSD due to a childhood trauma that involved physical and sexual abuse by a man 9 years my senior. So I second-guessed myself. Was I too “sensitive,” maybe? 

But no – the hand on my knee, the hand on my shoulder – my instinct screamed that this was just wrong and not normal in the workplace. 

So I fumed, kept silent and told my husband repeatedly that I wasn’t sure whether I could remain at APSRC until I found a new job. 

When FOIA’ing SAU after I quit – without a job – I asked about its stance toward workplace violence. 

“There is no document that exempts any part of SAU from workplace violence,” was the response I received from Roger Giles, Vice President for Administration and General Counsel. He referred me to the university handbook.

It states: 

Workplace Violence 

The University is committed to providing a safe, healthful workplace that is free from violence or threats of violence. Reports of threatening or violent incidents are taken seriously and dealt with appropriately. Individuals who engage in violent or threatening behavior may be removed from the premises, and may be subject to dismissal or other disciplinary action, arrest, and/or criminal prosecution.

The University does not tolerate behavior that: 1. is violent, 2. threatens violence, 3. harasses or intimidates others, 4. interferes with an individual’s legal rights of movement or expression, and 5. disrupts the workplace, the academic environment, or the University’s ability to provide services to the public. Violent or threatening behavior can include physical acts, oral or written statement, or gestures and expressions. Any violent or threatening behavior must be reported immediately to the University Police Department

I’ve since imagined myself showing up at the SAU PD to report that my boss, one of the Waltons’ lead henchmen, comes across as controlling and, sometimes, threatening.

No way would that have ended well for me.

But SAU’s entanglement with APSRC suffers from many other problems than those between Smith and the women he employs or encounters in his role as executive director/lobbyist.

Tomorrow, I’ll delve into the reciprocal agreement between the two entities. Neither APSRC nor SAU is actually abiding by that MOU signed in 2012. 

Like everything else involving APSRC, this agreement is just a cover for what the organization is really up to.

Inside the shadowy world of the Arkansas school-“choice” movement – Part 4 – Cutting off the head of the snake

UPDATE: My report on APSRC’s relationship with the SAU Foundation will be posted tomorrow. I’m still piecing all of my documents together.

The Arkansas State Board of Education, during what appeared to be a meticulously staged meeting, voted Thursday to return the Little Rock School District to local control. 

This about-face occurred because state leaders and board members feared further public shaming and opted instead for an awkward retreat.

Stakeholders celebrated the vote, only to get a clapback from the state board when it next voted to oust the Little Rock Education Association. (As we all know, Governor Asa Hutchinson and his GOP underlings loathe unions.) 

Remember, the Waltons have invested millions in organizations that lobby specifically for the Arkansas school -“choice” movement. Despite today’s vote to reinstate local control, the Walton Family Foundation will persist in its efforts to dismantle LRSD and other districts that might appeal to charter-school leaders and the private-school crowd.

Again, they don’t just want your students and the funding that follows them. They want your facilities. (More on that below.) 

Right now, given public sentiment, the Waltons will let things quiet down. But you can bet that the various nonprofits that they fund already are stepping up their behind-the-scenes efforts to get their projects back on track. 

It is imperative that the various grassroots organizations involved in fending off the Waltons’ school grabs remain intersectional and vigorous in their efforts to protect their districts, teachers, students, and, again, their buildings. You have won a battle. Not the war.

Here’s a handy little instructional guide for cutting the head off the snake. Below are the bullet points.

  • Publicly shame the Southern Arkansas University Foundation for its willingness to accept and funnel Walton money into the Arkansas Public School Resource Center. Click here to read my first post that mentioned SAU.)  I’m told that the reason that the University of Central Arkansas – which had a similar arrangement from 2008-2012 – pulled out of its MOU with the Walton Family Foundation when APSRC got involved in activities that made the university uncomfortable. This also would put pressure on other state universities that might be approached by APSRC if SAU ended this odd and dysfunctional relationship. (More on this tomorrow.) 
  • Organize a protest in Hot Springs on the day of APSRC’s annual fall conference. This year, the event will be held on October 23, 2019, at the Hot Springs Convention Center. Governor Asa Hutchinson and ADE Commissioner Johnny Key are scheduled to be there. In years past, they’ve spoken during the opening session. They and other attendees will enter the Plaza Lobby and then proceed to Horner Hall. In the afternoon, there’s always a legislative panel. It’s usually composed of GOP men and a token woman. (Senator Jane English) I suggested that we invited Senator Joyce Elliott each year that I organized the conference. My request was denied every time. Smith wouldn’t even entertain the prospect of inviting Senator Linda Chesterfield. He’s scared of Elliott. He’s terrified of Chesterfield.) In my opinion, anyway. I’ll post more on the specifics of the conference Saturday evening. 
  • Protect your buildings. During the 91st General Assembly, a bill that eventually became Act 542 stipulates that open-enrollment charter schools may buy or lease buildings belonging to traditional public schools if such buildings are deemed to be unused or underutilized. Click here to read the rule promulgated by the Arkansas Department of Education. Click here to see what the Arkansas Commission for Public School Facilities and Transportation has since posted on its website. And… guess who is in bed with APSRC? I’ll offer more info and some tips on Sunday evening. 
  • Approach the many traditional public school districts that agree to be APSRC members each year out of fear. Offer support. APSRC needs those districts more than they need APSRC. I can say this after having gone through three years of membership recruiting. Remind districts that even if they live and operate in rural areas, they are not immune to the Walton endeavor to do away with public education altogether. More on this Monday evening.

Tomorrow: I will explain SAU’s relationship with APSRC. (I’ll also link to pertinent documents.) 




Inside the shadowy world of the Arkansas school-“choice” movement – Part 3

In late 2016, the Arkansas Public School Resource Center’s department heads – aka “team leaders” – were asked to write goals for a grant application for another three-year round of Walton funding. 

This proved to be a rather confusing and frustrating process due to the fact that we were required to work in silos. Given that some departments would eventually have to rely on others in order to meet their goals, it seemed odd to discourage collaboration. 

Before the grant application was submitted on July 1, 2017, each team leader received the portion of the application that would be relevant to his/her own departments if the grant was approved. We never were permitted to see each other’s goals, measurements, outcomes, etc… (Unless, of course, we talked among ourselves.) 

So BAM! – the application is finally completed and submitted … and …

… crickets. 

Afterward, team leaders would periodically ask one another if the application had been approved. No one knew. 

Despite this, we were instructed to begin doing whatever was needed to meet our goals. In my case, this meant hiring a local firm to build a new website that would cost an estimated $50,000. I realize that’s peanuts to the Waltons and their minions, but I really didn’t feel comfortable proceeding without any idea as to whether the grant request had been approved. 

If I had any hope of getting the website done by the date required to meet my grant goal – December 31, 2017 – I would need to hire someone by August 2017. 

APSRC Executive Director Scott Smith – an attorney with a degree in business administration –  told me to move forward. 

But  when I gave him the contract documents to sign, he looked at them and asked, “What are these?”

I then explained to the expert in law and business what the documents were.

“I’m not signing these,” Smith declared, flinging the papers aside. 

I now realize that the grant hadn’t yet been approved, which meant Smith didn’t want his name on anything involving a $50,000 price tag. 

Still, he subsequently met with the website firm’s employees – on more than one occasion – and told APSRC’s other team leaders to begin doing their part to ensure that the new website would launch on schedule. 

Just as the project neared completion in late 2017, Smith asked me for copies of the contract. I pointed out that he had refused to sign it. 

This sent him into a tizzy, even though he acknowledged that he had shoved the documents aside. Smith then called in one of APSRC’s attorneys and asked him to draft a contract, which was then sent to the firm. 

Next up was an angry phone call to the firm during which Smith lectured the owner for not signing the contract ASAP. At this time, the owner was sitting at the bedside of his dying father.

“I know you’ve got a lot going on with your dad,” Smith said. “But I’m dealing with similar issues in my family and I still manage to get things done.” 

I happened to be sitting in on this call. By the time it ended, I was absolutely mortified. 

In early January 2018, the website launched – a week behind schedule, yes – but it exceeded my expectations. 

To this day, I don’t know whether the Waltons ever signed off on the grant application or not.

I asked several times in 2017, 2018 and 2019 to see the entire grant application so that I would know what I needed to do to assist other departments in meeting their goals. I never received one. Nor did I ever hear an explanation as to why not.

Why all the secrecy?  Because if you read the application in full, you’ll notice that that APSRC’s focus isn’t on all public schools. 

While the number of traditional public school districts – with or without conversion charters on their campuses – far exceeds the number of charter schools in Arkansas,  a reading of the grant application will make it clear who gets priority standing. 

Yes, 100 percent of Arkansas’ open-enrollment charters are members of APSRC. But they are far fewer in number than the state’s many rural school districts, and, really, if they want Walton support, they have no choice but to become members. Also, bear in mind that more than 85 percent of APSRC’s members are traditional public school districts that may or may not have conversion charters on their campuses. 

I finally managed to snag a copy of the entire grant application and feel compelled to share this little gem from “Request/Purpose” section: 

APSRC has long been a strong advocate for the improvement of educational policy and advocacy for issues at the core of our work which matches the Walton Family Foundation’s principles of accountability, transparency, choice, and sustainability. 

Before moving on to the next topic, I’m just going to note that a lack of transparency and accountability will one day be APSRC’s downfall. 

As a journalist, I know that people who are secretive, deceptive and paranoid are more than likely hiding something. 

And to describe Smith as secretive, deceptive and paranoid would be a dramatic understatement. 

Before the 2017 General Assembly convened, he wanted to know if any of us knew lawmakers or were friends of them. He also instructed us not to talk with them. 

Telling a former newspaper reporter and Arkansas Department of Correction legislative liaison that she is not “allowed” to talk to lawmakers was exactly the wrong thing to do. Because by the 2019 legislative session, I understood that if public school districts were going to get any sort of explanation as to what was going on, they would have to hear from the people who listen – and talk to – legislators. 

Granted, I wasn’t “allowed’ to interview lawmakers. But I sure made use of what they said during the 2019 session. 

Smith didn’t like this. By the end of the session, he had ordered me to start sending him drafts of stories before I sent them out. He started telling me to cut certain quotes from certain lawmakers and, on one occasion, told me to take my byline off of a story that he considered to be “controversial.”

“Why?” I protested.

“I’m just trying to protect you. ”

Er – from who?

At one point during the 2019 session, Senator Joyce Elliott, a member of the Education Committee who has actually worked in public schools, called a news conference. I covered it and sent a story out to our members. 

The next day, Smith asked why I had quoted Elliott.

“Well, she’s the person who called the news conference,” I said. “It would be kind of weird to not quote her.”

“Well, nobody likes her,” Smith shot back. 

Said no newspaper editor ever.

This is getting long and time is getting short – my family is still waiting on dinner – but this is what I want those of you residing in – or supporting – the Little Rock School District to know. 

Yes, APSRC has some talented folks on staff. And they do a great job of trying to provide professional development. That said, the organization’s primary role is to lobby on behalf of school “choice.” It is not a friend to public schools. It is using them to help shroud its true mission.

During my three years at APSRC, Smith always seemed to be “meeting someone at the Capitol” or “having a meeting with the governor” or “meeting with (ADE Commissioner) Johnny Key” or asking APSRC’s legal staff to draft bills that certain GOP lawmakers were willing to run. 

During the 2019 session, a lawmaker introduced a bill that would prohibit school districts from using their funding to pay for dues to membership organizations that engage in lobbying the Legislature. (Read: Membership organizations that are actually representing their members and giving them a voice.)

All sorts of membership organizations testified against the bill. I asked Smith if the proposed legislation would have an effect on APSRC.

He brushed me off. “This has nothing to do with us,” he said.

As various supporters of public education testified against the bill, Smith either left the committee room or hugged the back wall. I was both fascinated and appalled.

Supporters of a return to local control within LRSD – please hear me: 

APSRC wants your facilities. Each year, the organization’s charter director is required to court and bring in potential CMOs. These charter operators always tour the same two cities – Little Rock and Pine Bluff. Sometimes they meander down to the Delta, but they are most interested in Little Rock and Pine Bluff. Again, read the grant application. It’s a road map to Walmartized education. 

Meanwhile, APSRC is charged with propping up any failing charters. Why? Because school facilities are a prize to win and keep. Just look at how things unfolded in the Covenant Keepers/Friendship drama. (More on that in another post.) 

I’ll end by saying this: APSRC wants your buildings. It wants your students and the funding that goes with them. It does not care if its actions result in re-segregation. It will do everything it can to help the State Board do away with legit unions.

Think of it this way – open-enrollment charters are merely placeholders in the Waltons’ endeavor to dismantle public education.

  • Get the building.
  • Get the students.
  • Get the funding that follows the students.
  • Prop up the failing charters. Continue the pursuit of private-school vouchers. 
  • Rinse. Repeat. 

I will post again tomorrow evening and will share whatever is pertinent to the State Board’s decision and its repercussions. 

Inside the shadowy world of the Arkansas school-“choice” movement – PART 2

Need to catch up? Read part 1 by clicking here

After taking a job with the Arkansas Public School Resource Center in August 2016, I spent the next few months planning the annual statewide education conference that APSRC hosts each year at the Hot Springs Convention Center. 

This year’s event is set for October 23, 2019, should anyone feel a pressing need to publicly ask Governor Asa Hutchinson and Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Johnny Key any questions about their actions regarding the Little Rock School District over the past five years.

They usually speak during the opening session. Can’t afford a ticket? No worries. You can greet Hutchinson and Key as they and other attendees enter via the Plaza Lobby, which is where the continental breakfast is served, just outside the Horner Hall Ballroom. 

There also will be an afternoon panel “discussion” during which a bevy of GOP-only lawmakers – most, if not all, of them non-educators – will be on hand to talk about the future of public education in Arkansas.) 

But I digress… 

It wasn’t until after the conference that I started focusing my attention on my other primary duty, which was to cover and report on State Board of Education meetings, interim joint-education committee meetings, ESSA meetings and so on…

This is when I learned that I was supposed to delicately spoon-feed our members when writing my news reports. 

APSRC uses Constant Contact to email its members. Recipients are divided into various groupings. Some emails are sent only to open-enrollment charter schools. Others only to traditional districts. And still others to anyone and everyone. 

This is where things get dicey. 

You see, APSRC Executive Director Scott Smith is but one of three Arkansas Walton stepchildren vying for the attention of wealthy absentee parents. 

You’ve got Smith representing APSRC, which purports to represent and serve both traditional public school districts and open-enrollment charters. 

Next up is Gary Newton of Arkansas Learns, who happens to be the nephew of Arkansas State Board of Education Chairman Diane Zook. 

And then we have The Reform Alliance, which currently uses a voucher program to “help” special-education students, foster kids, etc… attend private schools  – many of which are faith-based – and to give up any rights they have under the IDEA Act. (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)

All three organizations lobby state lawmakers on behalf of the Waltons. All three are at all times pursuing often contradictory/opposing passages of legislation. All three are always, always at odds with one another. 

The 2017 General Assembly proved to be a challenge for me. If I wrote about private-school-voucher bills, Smith fretted. I found that interesting. I mean, if APSRC truly represents and supports public schools, you’d think he would be right up front testifying before lawmakers with other membership organizations – the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators, for example. Or maybe the Arkansas School Board Association. 

And you would think that I would be able to freely report on such bills, testimony and reactions. 

Nope.  Because – horrors! – I might offend Arkansas Learns and/or The Reform Alliance. In other words, I might have angered the generous benefactor of all three competing nonprofits – the Walton Family Foundation. 

Smith and Newton appeared – to me, anyway – to have honed an ability to materialize out of thin air just in time to witness how things went down in the education committees while simultaneously avoiding the offering of any testimony. 

Bear in mind, they were being monitored at all times by Kathy Smith, senior program officer for the Walton Family Foundation. She and Newton also made it a practice to attend APSRC’s quarterly policy board meetings. 

During the 2017 session, I eventually stopped sending Smith my news reports before I emailed them to APSRC members. It was just easier and less confusing that way.

It was around that time when I started to question why Southern Arkansas University had been deemed the public entity that would provide  APSRC with HR services. SAU also kept track of our leave time and managed our benefits and retirement plans. 

I would later learn that the SAU Foundation is the recipient of Walton grant funds intended for APSRC. SAU is charged with disseminating the money and administering HR services for APSRC staff. 

When I started working for APSRC, I was given the same (presumably) packet handed to new university employees. 

So why funnel funding through state university foundations? Remember, from 2008 until 2012, the University of Central Arkansas served as APSRC’s Walton-funding dispensary.

Let’s take a look at APSRC’s staff positions to work through this one.

You’ve got Smith, the director, a former state employee (ADE). Then there’s the office manager and administrative assistant, one of whom also worked for several years at ADE.

Next up is the legal staff – chief counsel and at least one staff attorney, if not two. 

There’s also the finance staff, which is currently composed of a director (a former longtime public school superintendent) and two specialists, one of whom spent most of her career working for public schools in Arkansas.

You’ve got two tech guys, both of whom formerly worked in public schools in Arkansas. 

And then there’s the Teaching and Learning Department, where, currently, you’ll find two longtime public-school educators. Sometimes, there are more, depending on grants and funding. 

Now let’s look at the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System and who is eligible to participate. 

Click here

Back with me? OK, so there you go. Why, as a longtime Arkansas public-school employee or ADE employee, would you give up your ATRS or state retirement package to go and work for a controversial nonprofit? 

You probably wouldn’t.

 BUT … if you could hang onto what you’ve already invested in by working for an entity that would allow you to keep contributing and participating in your retirement plan – wouldn’t you find that nonprofit-employment offer a bit more palatable? 

I had no skin in the game where retirement was concerned. But I can tell you that I made more money at APSRC than I ever made working for newspapers or the Arkansas Department of Correction. And yeah, the benefits and leave time were pretty fabulous. 

Problem is, in order to enjoy all of this, you have to sell your soul.

Tomorrow – APSRC’s Walton grant application process and an explanation of its actual goals


Inside the shadowy world of the Arkansas school-“choice” movement

Simply put, I needed a job. 

In December 2014, I’d wrapped up a 21-year career as a newspaper reporter. I spent 15 of those years at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

After leaving the paper, I served as the public information officer and legislative liaison for the Arkansas Department of Correction. My office also responded to the phone calls, emails and letters we received daily from inmates’ families. 

One year in, I realized I just wasn’t cut out to work at a state agency. 

So my husband, kids and I briefly moved to Texas and I took a job as a SPED inclusion instructional aide in a Title I public school. I loved working with the kids, and I truly thought I’d found my calling. I hoped to get certified and become a teacher. Alas, all those California techies who have moved to the Austin area over the past couple of decades have driven up the cost of housing to a level that we could never afford on a teacher’s salary. 

So we returned to Arkansas, moved back into the home we’d bought in 2005, and I started the job hunt once again. 

In July 2016, I received a call from Scott Smith, the executive director of the Arkansas Public School Resource Center. He told me that an old friend who once worked with me at the D-G had recommended me for a position at APSRC. An interview revealed that Smith needed not only a communications director but also someone who could oversee the planning of the annual fall conference. Also, I would cover the Arkansas State Board of Education meetings, the Legislature and anything else involving education. 

Smith seemed quite pleased with my background as a “real” journalist.

“Do you have a problem with charter schools?” he asked during the interview. 

“No?” I replied, uncertain. 

“And you think you can organize a statewide education conference?”

“Yes,” I said, more declaratively this time, thinking of the many Girl Scout events I’d helped to plan and supervise as a troop leader and member of the North Hills Service Unit.

I didn’t know a whole lot about charters at that time. I did have some qualms based on the fact that the D-G’s publisher, Walter Hussman, was an avid supporter of the charter movement. Hussman’s children all attended out-of-state private schools. It seemed to me that he wasn’t really in a position to judge what qualifies as a “good” or “equitable” public education. Also, rich people are insanely out of touch when it comes to us “regular folks.”

On the other hand, I once signed up my kids for a charter lottery because one of them was struggling at school and I thought a new environment would help. Our 2016 move to Texas served as a reset button, however, so when we returned to Arkansas, my children also returned to the traditional public school district in which they had grown up. 

But like I said, I needed a job. I also figured that a position at APSRC would allow me to remain (somewhat) in the world of public education. I thought maybe I could work toward becoming a teacher here. (I can now say that if I ever decide to pursue a teaching career, I will not be doing so in Waltonsas.) 

My first day at APSRC was on August 3, 2016. I quit nearly three years later, on June 14, 2019. That night, I sent Smith an email in which I not only announced my resignation but also shared my many reasons for quitting so abruptly. I made sure to copy in all of the female staff members so that Smith couldn’t attempt to seize the narrative. Turnover at Walton-funded nonprofits and charters is rather, well … high. And at APSRC, turnover is especially high where women are concerned.

Immediately, I felt a burden lift.

No more working in an environment steeped in secrecy and paranoia. No more placating a male boss who acted more like an abusive stalker ex-boyfriend than an actual leader. No more weird workplace silos that left “team leaders” completely in the dark as to what other departments were doing. No more legislative education committee meetings that reeked of conspiracy, deception and stale men’s suits in dire need of dry-cleaning. 

I think the turning point for me was when, at the beginning of APSRC’s annual membership drive in the spring/summer of 2019, Smith said on three occasions – in my presence – that “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.” 

“Them” refers to public school districts – as in APSRC’s current member districts and potential member districts.

As a journalist, this really bothered me. My old-school B.A. in print journalism represents – to me, anyway – an oath to be accurate, fair and credible. 

I spent decades looking for facts. I believe in transparent and ethical journalistic practices.

Baffle them with bullshit?

Um, that’s a hard no. 

We’re talking about the education of Arkansas’ children. We’re talking about the teachers who work long hours for pitiful pay. We’re talking about inadequate funding, inadequate facilities and the fact that the state has taken its largest school district hostage just so that it can take it apart and reinstate segregation in the Little Rock School District.

There will be no “baffle them with bullshit” from my little corner of the universe. 

Also, covering the 2019 legislative session left me disturbed and downright angry about what is happening in public education. The 2017 General Assembly gave me serious pause. The 2019 session revealed the seamiest side of the school-”choice” movement.

In this post and those that will follow, I’m going to share the details of my three years at APSRC. Since quitting, I’ve learned that most people – even those in education – don’t realize how APSRC is structured or how it operates. Yes, it’s a nonprofit primarily funded by the Waltons. But it’s also a powerful and influential force where the governor and state Legislature are concerned. 

Also, did you know that there is an Oklahoma Public School Resource Center? I ask you to take a moment to reflect on how public education is faring there. 

Based on what I witnessed during my three years at the organization, I feel comfortable saying that  APSRC’s purported mission – providing resources and services to public schools – is just a half-hearted cover for the agency’s true purpose – to serve as a lobbyist for the Waltons and their efforts to dismantle public education. That includes strong-arming the governor, GOP lawmakers and Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Johnny Key. 

The fact that Smith has no scruples or shame is actually to the Waltons’ benefit. He may be a jerk who would be brought to heel by your average functioning HR department, but he’s also in it for the end game – the destruction of public schools. The fact that he belittles women and minorities is, to the Waltons, irrelevant. 

I recall one “team leader” meeting during which we discussed possible speakers for the annual fall conference and its breakout sessions. 

Smith told us about one prospect and then put our potential session leader on the speakerphone. 

After hanging up, Smith asked, “What do you think?”

One of the team leaders asked, “Is he black?”

I knew why she was asking. Arkansas educators desperately need to hear from black teachers and school administrators. Arkansas educators also wish to hire black teachers and administrators.

But Smith took her question the wrong way, based on his own apparent prejudices. 

“Yes, he’s black,” Smith said. “But – *pause* he went to Yale.” 

*insert awkward silence here*

I’ve spent the past several weeks sending out FOIA requests in an effort to learn more about the nonprofit for which I worked. We weren’t privy to a lot of the details about the organization or even our job descriptions. I spent two years asking to see the most recent Walton grant application – submitted in 2017 with my and other team leaders’ input – to no avail. I never did find out whether it was actually funded. When you work for a nonprofit, you generally would like to know what your goals, measurements and outcomes are. I really don’t think my request was unreasonable.

I am still going through documents and emails, but given what is happening this week regarding the Little Rock School District, I feel compelled to start posting now. I will link to any documents I discuss. 

So – let’s talk about APSRC and its membership. Who, exactly, are APSRC’s members? 

All Arkansas charter schools are, of course, members, even though they really don’t have any choice in the matter. If you run an open-enrollment charter school and want Walton funding, you join APSRC for $3,500 a year. I’m told that several charter directors aren’t terribly … fond … of Smith. But again, if they want continued funding and support, they have to belong to APSRC. 

The majority of APSRC’s members, however, are traditional rural school districts. 

That said, even the state’s largest urban districts also can become members via  “technical-assistance” contracts with APSRC. The North Little Rock School District is one such example. 

Members of traditional districts – many of which operate conversion charters on their campuses – pay $2,500 a year. Those with technical-assistance contracts negotiate an MOU with the fees contingent on services and manpower provided by APSRC.

More than 85 percent of Arkansas’ public school districts are members of APSRC. 

The Arkansas Public School Resource Center was founded in December 2008, thanks to a $4.5 million donation from the Walton Family Foundation. At the time, APSRC was billed as an arm of the University of Central Arkansas, headed by then-interim President Tom Courtway. 

Walton funds were sent to the UCA Foundation, where they were then administered to support APSRC at UCA. At the same time, APSRC announced that Scott Smith –  who joined ADE in 2000 as a staff attorney and went on to become the chief counsel in 2002 – would be APSRC’s executive director.

Smith is an attorney whose bachelor’s degree is in business administration. He has absolutely no experience in education. 

Of course, neither does ADE Commissioner Johnny Key. 

Per a 2008 news release drafted by UCA: “The purpose of the APSRC is to provide comprehensive services to advance and support school-choice initiatives and the implementation of high-quality open-enrollment public charter schools in Arkansas, as well as providing a variety of  support services critical to the fiscal and academic success of rural public schools in Arkansas.”

For reasons I have not yet uncovered, APSRC and the UCA Foundation severed ties in 2012. Smith then approached the Southern Arkansas University Foundation with a proposal. 

At the bottom of this post is the MOU signed off by APSRC staff and the SAU Foundation. In my next post, I will share how this MOU translated into the actual operations of the two entities. I’ll also explain why the Waltons seek state university foundation partnerships to further their school-“choice” ideology.

Just know this – the school-choice movement doesn’t target only the wealthy or the GOP. I will share in later posts how charter proponents have lured Democrats and progressives into the movement. I’ll also give you a peek into the Walton Family Foundation/APSRC grant/funding process.


Living with PTSD: How to (not-so-tactfully) tell your (now former) boss that he was one of your primary triggers

I quit my job this weekend. And now I am going to get my life back. But more on that in a minute…

In an effort to diminish the stigma surrounding PTSD, I’ve always been very open about my struggles. For those unfamiliar with my life story, however, here’s a snapshot:

At age 15, I unfortunately caught the eye of a 24-year-old man who had dropped out of college and moved in with his parents … who attended our very evangelical church. This “relationship” went on for five years. He abused me in every way that a man can possibly abuse a teenage girl/woman. Just before I turned 20, my mom saw fingerprint-shaped bruises on my upper arm. Within a few short months, she helped me transfer to a new college in another city. I moved into an all-girls dorm and broke up with my abuser by phone.

Next up – journalism. I wrote for various newspapers for 20-plus years. Reporters don’t like to admit it, but we do suffer from the trauma of what we’ve seen and experienced.

Finally – the desert. Turns out that the most primitive, reptilian part of your brain doesn’t just “get past” being lost in the desert for five days and four nights, especially when you damn nearly died alone. This happened on a vacation, when my photojournalist husband and I let down our guard. Just before we left on that trip, my children informed me that Big Bend sounded like a dangerous place. “Oh, don’t worry,” I told them. “We’re journalists. We’re used to danger. We know how to take care of ourselves.”

After I was discharged from the hospital, I stupidly went right back to work and spent the next year working on a series about what had happened to me. Some exposure therapy is good. Daily exposure therapy is not. Lesson learned.

Since leaving the newspaper in December 2014, I’ve cycled through three completely different jobs in an effort to find a place where I fit in. I didn’t tell anyone about the PTSD at the first two.

But at the third one, I finally felt a need to explain why I am the way I am. Admitting one’s vulnerabilities and subsequent odd behaviors is humiliating. But I thought that if I shared this part of me with just the women in the office, it would make me less self-conscious and them less skeptical of my quirks. And again, I truly believe it’s important to feel as though you can be your authentic self, even if that means that you like to keep your office door closed, socialize only with female employees and call in sick when you just can’t bear the thought of being around people.

Which brings me to why I quit my job last night via email.

My now-former boss was a major PTSD trigger. Why? Because he exhibited all of the traits that my abuser did – the possessiveness, the tracking of his female employees’ comings and goings via the front-office staff, questioning where you’d been or why you were there. He was satisfied only when all of his team members were confined in their offices with their doors open.

I told my mom at one point that I felt like I was back in high school, trying to constantly placate my jealous ex-boyfriend – only this time,  the damage was happening in the workplace.

Thanks to my psychologist and psychiatrist, I made it through the first part of 2019. In recent months, however, I knew I was beginning to crumble. I was becoming that same scared-shitless 15-year-old girl answering to some older white man who seemed to think I was company “property.”

And then I realized that I could not let this happen to me – not again. I’ve put myself back together twice now. I can’t do it a third time.

So I emailed him. Told him why I was quitting in very blunt language. And in doing so, I picked up one of those crumbled-away pieces and put it back in place. I’m cracked, yes, but NOT broken. I am not that teenage girl anymore.

Which is why I did not leave quietly or politely or nicely. Years of therapy taught me that we have to call out men for being misogynistic. Otherwise, the cycle continues and more women suffer.

I got a second chance at life when I was rescued in the desert. And ever since, I’ve just been … wallowing. No more. I was granted extra years and I want to enjoy life instead of just trying to survive it.

I already survived an abusive relationship. I survived the desert. Now it is time to thrive.


The power of shame.

In my early days of reporting, I learned a valuable lesson from an older colleague –

If ever a man won’t return your calls – just call his mother. Call his mother, tell her about the story that you’re working on and then explain that you can’t seem to get in touch with her son. You’ve left several messages, yes, but to no avail. Oh, and even if he just wants to offer a “no comment,” could he please just let you know? You would be ever so appreciative. Thank you.

It worked. I can’t tell you how many times I called mothers – who then called their sons and relayed my messages. Along, of course, with their own recriminations.

This my friends, is called “The Power of Shame.”

Unfortunately, all too many old, white, privileged men have lost the ability to feel shame. And their mothers died years ago.

Enter the next generation of men – who are married to women like me.

Today, we witnessed the power of shame when two women confronted U.S. Senator Jeff Flake in the elevator just moments after he announced that he would support Brett Kavanaugh – the latest example of disastrous lapse in GOP … er, judgement?

Enter two courageous women, who, in public and on camera, shared their own trauma and SHAMED Flake for his intent to give Kavanaugh a pass.

Also, this morning, Flake’s friend from across the aisle, Chris Coons, was clearly stunned and upset by Flake’s announcement that Flake would support Kavanaugh.

Informed of Flake’s decision by a CNN reporter – before today’s vote – Coons said: ““Oh fuck. We each make choices for our own reason. I’m struggling, sorry.”

Again, Flake was shamed, this time by a man he clearly respects and considers to be a friend.

How do we know this? Because after Coons’ emotional response and after the two women confronted Flake as he attempted an elevator get-away, Flake did something that GOP men just don’t do – he actually changed his mind.

He crossed the aisle. He met with Democrats. And then he said he could not support a full Senate floor vote if the FBI were not asked to investigate the allegations against Kavanaugh.


Because he, when confronted by real people – traumatized and angry women – and the disappointment of a man he considers to be a friend, Flake … felt shame.

It’s a pity – no, it’s infuriating – that so many white men – especially those in power – have lost the ability to feel shame.

But it’s apparent that they have.

Exhibit A: Mitch McConnell ensuring the public that the Senate would “plow through” with this confirmation.

Exhibit B: Chuck Grassley’s eagerness to just move on a vote and adjourn. His demeanor throughout the confirmation process can be described only as dismissive and harsh.

Exhibit C: Lindsey Graham’s abject horror over poor, poor Kavanaugh – as opposed to a woman who had, convincingly, just laid herself bare when describing how she was sexually assaulted at the age of 15. (If ever God decides to throw down a meaningful lightning bolt to remind us of who is boss, I’m pretty sure she’ll hurl it at Graham. OK, or Paul Ryan. Or Mitch McConnell.)

I could go on and on where senators of a certain age are concerned.

But the point is this – if only their mothers were still alive, I would totally encourage every victimized woman and every female journalist to call them.

Because apparently, these days, where too many members of Congress are concerned, there needs to be some sort of catalyst in order for them to actually feel … shame.

Of course, we know that some Republican men are simply incapable of feeling shame. And that should disturb us. Remember – Kavanaugh’s wife and mother were present yesterday when Kavanaugh decided to rant about how his (entitled, per him) path to a seat on the highest court in America had been made bumpy by a woman who came forward to accuse him of trying to rape her.

And there his wife sat – in stoic silence. And there sat his mother – in support of her son.

So we can conclude that white, affluent Republican women also have lost the ability to feel – let alone, prompt – shame.

Where does that leave us? Well, if we can no longer depend on mothers, then it’s up to those of us who relate to the “Elevator Women.”

We must use our voices. We must tell our stories. We most show ourselves to be relevant. We must remind them also of this – We. Are. Voters.













I know what it’s like to be sexually assaulted

As many of you know – from my previous blog posts – I was an unlucky 15-year-old who caught the attention of a 24-year-old man who attended our church.

It was the summer of 1985. “Dick” had just dropped out of college and moved in with his parents. I was a high school sophomore. He was a loser. I was an idealist.

One Sunday, after church, I noticed him staring at me. Being a young and stupid and impressionable teenager, I was flattered. I was even more flattered when he and one of the guys in our teen group followed us home. Bear in mind, I was a passenger in my mom’s car, along with my two younger sisters.

In a matter of weeks, he had convinced me to start sneaking out of my parents’ house in the middle of the night. We would drive to Lake Travis and make out.

Thanksgiving 1985 – I finally broke down and confessed. Over Thanksgiving dinner. My parents were totally caught off guard. They’d had no idea that any of this was going on.

But hey – the CHURCH was OK with the whole thing. And so, with the church’s permission, I started “dating” Dick openly.

By December, I’d lost my virginity to him – after weeks of moaning and complaining and self-pity on his part. It wasn’t special. It wasn’t romantic. It wasn’t remotely pleasurable. It was simply an act in which I reluctantly participated to placate my “Christian” adult boyfriend.

Over the next five years, our “relationship” spiraled out of control. Dick was jealous and controlling and abusive.

Ever been held down and forced to have sex? I have. Repeatedly.

Ever spent weeks waiting anxiously for your period to arrive because your selfish boyfriend secretively slipped off a condom during one of your intimate encounters? I have.

Ever wondered what you would do if said horrible boyfriend got you pregnant? I have. (Abort. Abort. Abort.)

During the 5 1/2 years I spent with Dick, I was repeatedly held down, told to “shut up” and raped anytime that I refused sex. Note: I refused it for a variety of reasons, one of those being the fear of becoming a pregnant teenager.

In the fall of 1989, my mother noticed fingerprint-shaped bruises on my left arm. And I finally admitted what had been going on.

In short order, I transferred from my local college to the University of North Texas – 3 1/2 hours away from home. And from Dick.

Only then, did I summon the courage to break it off. I was safe. I lived in an all-girls dorm and he couldn’t get to me.

This week, I’ve read Christine Blasey Ford’s account of what Brett Kavanaugh – the GOP’s pick for the Supreme Court – did to her.

I believe her.

And so do the many women who have found themselves in situations in which they were vulnerable and a man – or men – felt ENTITLED to violate them.

It took me years to work up the nerve to describe all of the horrors that Dick put me through – even though I was the VICTIM.

No woman comes forward with a story like Ford’s unless she is telling the truth. Because not only do you fear that you won’t be believed – you fear the many judgements that will be passed on you, but NOT your attacker.

Because, of course, it’s always our fault.  We dressed the wrong way, acted the wrong way, said the wrong things….

… according, that is, to the patriarchy.

But here’s the truth. No one has the right to do what 24-year-old Dick did to 15-year-old me. And Brett Kavanaugh did not have the right to do what he did to a high school classmate.

My body. My choice. MY decision.

Ford’s body. Ford’s choice. Ford’s decision.

Not Dick’s. And not Brett Kavanaugh’s.










I. Am. Enough.

Growing up, we visited my maternal grandparents at least  twice a year – at Christmas and during summer vacation.


Mom? Dad? If you’re reading this, I’ve realized that Mt. Carmel did more damage to me than he-who-shall-not-be-named. I think that Mt. Carmel is the reason that I ended up being the perfect victim for someone like that man. I don’t mean this in an accusatory way. I’m trying to share an epiphany that, strangely, makes me feel better.


Mt. Carmel. Where to start? Mt. Carmel was a school. That also offered boarding. Its founders and builders make Baptists look like frat partiers. Seriously.

Anyway, Mt. Carmel is what people today would call a cult or a sect. Thankfully, once my mother left home for college, she never went back there. OK, she never went back there to live. Unfortunately, we went back umpteen times to visit.

And so, at the tender age of – wow, probably 3 or 4 – I learned that I wasn’t “enough.”

I wasn’t “good enough.”

I wasn’t “Christian enough.”

I wasn’t “well-behaved enough.”

I wasn’t dressed “appropriately enough.”

I just wasn’t – ever … enough.

I learned this from my grandparents – you know, the very people who are supposed to dote on you and spoil you.

I grew up in the Nazarene church. Again – ugh. Once I left home I didn’t go to church for decades. Because honestly? I really got tired of being – and feeling – that I wasn’t “enough.”

And then I joined the Presbyterian church.

Things went well until… I learned that I didn’t “attend church enough.”

I wasn’t “involved enough.”

I wasn’t an “active enough member.”

And so on.

Churches. You wonder why you are bleeding people. It’s because you constantly make them feel as though they “aren’t enough.”

The fact is, I AM enough. And I don’t need a church to affirm that. I’ve got a great psychologist and a support system that says that I am doing OK.

And I BELIEVE that I am doing OK. I’m not where I want to be yet. But I’m getting there.

Churches – until you start recognizing that, for some people, just making it to a pew is an accomplishment, you will continue to see a decline in your population.

I never wanted to go to church to prove that I was “enough.” I just wanted to go to church knowing that I would be accepted – regardless of what I was capable of giving.

I am enough. I always have been. It’s just taken me 40-plus years to realize that.







So let’s talk abortion…

When I was in high school, two of my “church friends,” as I referred to them back then, had abortions.

Both had gotten pregnant by the same guy, a free-wheeling asshole who attended our evangelical church. Both girls had parents who – back then AND now – adamantly opposed abortion. And yet …

… When *THEIR* girls got pregnant, those same parents rushed their daughters to abortion clinics. The whole church knew. But it politely turned a blind eye.

And then there was me – the 15-year-old who unfortunately drew the eye of a 24-year-old man who had flunked out of college. “Would it be so bad if you got pregnant?” he whispered into my ear, as I lay crying after yet another episode of unwanted sex.

Yes. It would have. And I would have aborted that fertilized egg – or fetus or whatever the far right is now calling it – in a split second. I hated my “boyfriend.” I hated myself. If he had succeeded in implanting something in me, I probably would have contemplated running away or suicide. Please note: the evangelical “boyfriend” was physically and sexually and emotionally abusive. He did not deserve a child then. I’m told he and his future wife later adopted one. They did not deserve that child. I know what he put me through. He never, ever should have been allowed the privilege of raising a child – not ever.

In my 20s, when I was working as a reporter for the Odessa American, my friend Melanie and her brother introduced me to a friend of her brother’s. We had just arrived at Riley’s Roadhouse, just before closing. We had just enough time to order a bloody Mary for each of us.

I was date-raped that night. I’d only had one drink. But I later learned that at that time, a lot of young guys in the area had come into possession of Rohypnol, the date-rape drug.

The next day, I tried to make an appointment with my female primary care doctor. But she wasn’t in. Instead, I got some old white man.

“Would it really be so bad if you were pregnant?” he asked, before refusing to write a prescription for the morning-after pill.

Desperate and panicked, I tracked down my regular doctor at home. She immediately ordered a prescription not only for the morning-after pill but also an anti-nausea medication… just in case.

Do I feel guilty? Nope. I didn’t then. I don’t now. I’d just been victimized. And whatever was in my body was no more than a teensy mass of cells. I bled out those cells and I was not – and never have been – sorry.

I went on to have two beautiful children with my husband.

They were wanted and planned for. Their father wasn’t an abusive pedophile. Their father wasn’t someone who drugged a 26-year-old single woman. Their father is a wonderful man I met at age 30. When. I. Was. Ready. And. Able. To. Have. Children.

I’m sharing this story because I think that all too often, the so-called “pro-lifers” want to think that women who seek abortions are “slutty” or “loose” women who “asked for” what happened to them.

Instead, you should be asking – “Who are these men who drive women to seek to terminate their pregnancies?”

But, of course, you won’t do that. Because it’s never the guy’s fault.

Go ahead. Seek to criminalize abortion. Seek to make those who have had one appear to be “bad women.” In fact, most times, we were victims. We did what we had to do to survive.

And I ask you to ask yourself – what if your daughter came to your with stories similar to mine? What would you tell her? What would you do?