It’s not Choice. It’s Takeover.
Once upon a time, in Arkansas, there was a man named Gary Compton. In 2003, Gary took a job as the superintendent of schools in Bentonville, where Sam Walton had opened the very first Wal-Mart in 1962.
Sam Walton and his children, Alice, Jim, John, and Rob, were all very rich. Together with Sam’s grandchildren, the Walton family founded the Walton Family Foundation in Bentonville, in 1987.
Thus, it was in the Waltons’ bucolic front yard where Gary Compton lived and worked, until 2011. When Gary left Bentonville Public Schools, he joined the University of Arkansas as executive-in-residence in the College of Education and Health Professions. Gary expressed an interest in education policy, saying, “The Arkansas Legislature has higher education under its microscope now. K-12 has been there for years so I hope I can bring some insight there as well.”
Now, bear with me while I connect some dots about the legislative “microscope” trained on K-12 education in Arkansas. This school-privatizing machine has a lot of cogs.
Kim Hendren’s son, Jim Hendren, is still representing the Hendrens and Waltons on the Senate Education Committee, winning his 2016 re-election campaign on Walmart money, just like his father before him.
Although Gary Compton didn’t stay in the university job for long, he remained a member of the Advisory Board for the university’s Walton-funded Office of Education Policy, and a member of the education committee for the Northwest Arkansas Council.
The Northwest Arkansas Council (NAC) is governed by a board of directors including Jim Walton, of the afore-mentioned Walton dynasty.
Another NAC board member was Steve Clark, the former Arkansas Attorney General who was convicted of fraud by deception, and forced to resign just after he declared his intention to run against Bill Clinton for governor.
Steve was later pardoned by Mike Huckabee, father of Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Sarah helped run the campaigns for both current US Senators from Arkansas: John Boozman and Tom Cotton.
Steve Clark, the man Sarah’s father pardoned, now puts his fraud experience to good use as a member of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. I guess it takes a (pardoned) criminal to catch a criminal!
Sarah, of course, has become Donald Trump’s press secretary.
Steve Clark is also president and CEO of Fayetteville’s Chamber of Commerce, which is affiliated with the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and the United States Chamber of Commerce, whose Senior Executive Vice President (incidentally, also named “Clark”) serves on the board of KIPP charter schools in Washington, D.C.
Randy Zook is a Kipp charter school board member, and the president and CEO of the AR State Chamber of Commerce. Zook’s State Chamber of Commerce is a paid member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC,) which sponsors bills at state legislatures around the country— especially those with anti-immigration, pro-gun, anti-transparency, anti-science agendas.
Basically, ALEC does the bidding of the Koch brothers, and the Zook family does the bidding of ALEC.
Randy Zook shares the State Chamber of Commerce board of directors with many Arkansas notables, including Reynie Rutledge, who replaced John Tyson on the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees in 2013.
Reynie is also on the board of Dillards, Inc. with Bill Dillard III, who joins Jim Walton, Walter Hussman (publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette,) and a nephew of the Zook family — Gary Newton — on the board of Arkansas Learns, a pro-charter lobby group.
More on the Zook family in a minute.
Regarding the Clark family, though, Steve Clark’s wife is Suzanne Clark, president of the Arkansas Bar Association. Suzanne is currently representing a Fayetteville teacher in a sexual harassment case against Matthew Wendt, former superintendent of Fayetteville public schools.
Suzanne is on the board (of trustees — not the school board) of The Academy, Inc., which operates the top high school in Arkansas: Haas Hall Academy. Haas Hall is an open-enrollment public charter school with campuses in Fayetteville, Bentonville, Springdale, and Rogers.
Suzanne serves on the board of The Academy, Inc. (running Haas Hall Academy) with Nancy Trammel. Nancy is married to Dick Trammel, who ran Arvest Bank with Jim Walton and served as Highway Commissioner for Arkansas Governors Mike Beebe and Asa Hutchinson.
Mike Beebe, who appointed Dick to the Highway Commission, also appointed Kim Davis (from Ozark Guidance — a private contractor offering mental health care to public school students in Springdale, Rogers, Bentonville, Fayetteville, and Siloam Springs) to the State Board of Education in 2014.
Unfortunately, Kim couldn’t finish his tenure at the State Board of Education, because he took a job with the Waltons at the Walton Family Foundation.
Kim quit the State Board of Education in 2015, allowing Asa to appoint his successor — Susan Chambers, who used to be Walmart’s executive vice president of global people, chief human resources officer.
Kim Davis (still working for the Walton family) participates in fundraisers for Haas Hall Academy alongside Ed Clifford, Shannon Starr Arcana (whose mother, Billie Jo Starr, donated Haas Hall’s Fayetteville building and helped build the Walton Arts Center) Judge John Threet* (who is currently the judge in Matthew and Suzanne’s sexual harassment case) and University of Arkansas basketball coach Jimmy Dykes.
Together, these people raise about a million dollars a year (as well as collecting taxes from the rest of us) to build the walled garden of Haas Hall Academy. Haas Hall’s discrimination against anyone who doesn’t fit their mold shows what happens when people are born on third base and think they’ve hit a triple.
It’s not just Haas Hall, of course. The University of Arkansas, too, has its connections to the Walton family (and the Trammels, Clarks, Tysons, Starrs, Hunts, et cetera) through the Northwest Arkansas Council.
Dave Gearhart, the university’s long-time chancellor, was an NAC board member. Dave is also the featured character in John Diamond’s new tell-all book, Please Delete, about a university cover-up of financial misdeeds.
We left Gary Compton in 2011, while he was working at Dave’s university. In the same year, Gary also took a new job as Assistant Superintendent of Support Services in Springdale Public Schools.
Springdale Public Schools was (and still is) being run by Superintendent Jim Rollins. Jim moved to Springdale from Little Rock, where he had been a principal in the Little Rock School District.
Jim Rollins was recently Steve Womack’s guest at President Barack Obama’s 2015 “State of the Union” address in Washington, D.C.
Steve Womack’s top campaign contributor was the Walton family company, Walmart. Steve Womack’s second-highest campaign contributor was The Stephens Group, LLC — a private equity firm based in Little Rock, whose COO and General Counsel is Ronald M. Clark.
Ronald M. Clark spent 26 years working for the Rose Law Firm, the “legal arm of the powerful” that was implicated, with Hillary Clinton, in the Whitewater scandal. Rose Law Firm also represents Haas Hall Academy.
Jim Rollins’ son, Joe Rollins, opened Springdale’s School of Innovation as its principal in 2014.
Don Tyson School of Innovation is named after Don Tyson, who founded Tyson Foods in Springdale, in 1958, and funded the Don Tyson Center for Agricultural Sciences at Dave Gearhart’s university. It was one of the first “schools of innovation” opened after Joyce Elliott (and Alan Clark) got Act 601 through the Arkansas legislature in 2013.
In 2014, the School of Innovation (technically a district conversion charter school) had its facilities inside the Jones Center, whose Executive Director is Ed Clifford. Ed is still at the Jones Center, but Joe went back to Springdale central office to become Director of Support Services in 2018, after Gary retired. But we’ll get back to Gary later.
In 2016, Ed Clifford invited Martin Schoppmeyer, Jr. — a Fayetteville alderman and the son of a University of Arkansas professor — to open a new campus of his existing charter school, Haas Hall Academy, at the Jones Center. Haas Hall replaced Springdale’s School of Innovation, which had moved to its own building earlier that year.
Meanwhile, back in Bentonville, a new superintendent had stepped into Gary Compton’s shoes: Mike Poore, newly-arrived from a long career closing (I mean “reforming”) public schools in Colorado.
Mike arrived in Bentonville in 2011 — the same year that Arkansas’ State Board of Education took Pulaski County Special School District and the Helena–West Helena School District away from their locally-elected school boards.
You remember how I said I would come back to the Zook family? Well, Randy’s wife, Diane Zook, joined the State Board of Education in 2013. She is slated to become its chairperson this year.
In 2015, with the Zook vote (and the Davis vote) in favor of takeover, the State Board of Education assumed direct control of the Little Rock School District (LRSD) in a 5–4 decision, while Johnny Key was taking a year at the University of Arkansas between his time in the legislature and his new job at the ADE.
Asa Hutchinson nominated Johnny Key to become the new Education Commissioner. Unfortunately, Arkansas law stood in his way.
So Alan Clark (the same guy who made national headlines this week trying to silence Stephanie Flowers’ impassioned speech against an ALEC “Stand Your Ground” bill) passed a bill allowing someone who had never worked in a school (like Johnny) to become Education Commissioner.
Asa immediately appointed Johnny to the office.
Since LRSD was already under state control when Johnny became Education Commissioner, Johnny also became the unelected, one-man, de facto school board for LRSD.
As the acting LRSD school board, Johnny quickly nabbed Mike Poore from Bentonville to become LRSD superintendent — paying Mike $75,000 more, per year, than his predecessor, Baker Kurrus.
Why did Johnny want Mike so badly, instead of Baker? Baker opposes charter school proliferation. Johnny supports it. Even though Johnny’s job title changed, his responsibility remains: Serving the interests of his corporate campaign donors, the Waltons.
With Mike Poore gone from Bentonville, the Walton family hometown needed a new superintendent.
The Bentonville school board hired Debbie Jones from the Charter Authorizing Panel at Johnny Key’s ADE to be interim superintendent, and officially promoted her to superintendent in the summer of 2016.
Last year, Debbie Jones joined the likes of Ecclesia College and Mike Huckabee as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by transparency activist Jim Parsons — who quit the Ecclesia board after he uncovered the kickback/public corruption scheme that has made the school notorious.
On a similar trajectory out from the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) to a local school district, Kendra Clay (Johnny Key’s general counsel and adviser) arrived in Springdale to replace our own Gary Compton in 2016.
Another ADE staffer to take over a local school district, recently, is Mark Gotcher.
Mark Gotcher only worked at the ADE for two years (at Johnny’s request) before he took the superintendent job in Russellville.
You’re probably wondering what all these people have to do with Gary Compton, right?
In 2016, Haas Hall Academy took its Rose Law Firm lawyer, Mark Murphey Henry, to the ADE to advocate for Haas Hall to expand into Springdale and Rogers.
Mark has a family history at the University of Arkansas and in the Arkansas legislature. His dad is Morriss Henry, a Harvard-educated former Arkansas representative who has served as chairman of the Advisory Board of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences — Northwest Arkansas.
Mark, himself, has recently won a “trade secret” case against Walmart with considerable financial success. Also, Mark’s ex-wife, Courtney Goodson, is an Arkansas Supreme Court Justice.
All this probably explains why Marty Schoppmeyer asked for Mark’s help when he applied to expand Haas Hall. And this is where Gary Compton comes back in.
Gary knew that Haas Hall was enrolling only the highest-achieving students from Fayetteville School District and Bentonville School District. He knew those numbers weren’t statistically possible, with Haas Hall’s “random” enrollment practices.
Gary wrote to Mark Gotcher, at the ADE, “I realize the ADE is not an investigative body, but, in this case, I think some investigative action must be required. To be candid, Haas Hall has simply skimmed off the top in both Fayetteville and Bentonville and that is no secret.” He concluded, “Frankly, I truly think you have no choice as doing nothing is not an option.”
Mark forwarded Gary’s email to Johnny and Kendra, with a note saying, “I am hesitant to respond.”
So, of course, nobody responded. Johnny, Mark, and Kendra also failed to disclose Gary’s message to the State Board of Education when board members Jay Barth and Mireya Reith asked the ADE to gather and present “all tangible concerns” about Haas Hall Academy’s enrollment practices to the board, before the board voted on Haas Hall’s expansion in 2016.
With the help of the Arkansas Public School Resource Center (APSRC,) whose board members include Jim Walton, Jim Hendren, Randy Zook, and State Board of Education member Fitz Hill, Haas Hall Academy did expand. The APSRC continues to advise Haas Hall directly, as Marty pursues new waiver and expansion applications.
Alexandra Boyd, the ADE staffer to whom Marty addressed this letter about the APSRC, studied at the University of Arkansas in the same department where Gary used to work. Alex is also the same staffer who handled the “Case of the 2016 Whistleblower” without disclosing it to the State Board of Education upon the request of Jay and Mireya. That whistleblower has recently filed a formal complaint against the ADE.
I hope the ADE investigates Alex’s actions (or inactions?) thoroughly.
Of course, regarding Gary’s undisclosed letter, Mark and Kendra aren’t at the ADE any more. They’re both earning a lot more money as district administrators than they would have ever made covering up complaints at the ADE.
Mireya Reith has also moved on from the State Board of Education. Her Springdale nonprofit, Arkansas United Community Coalition, is funded by the Walton Family Foundation.
Haas Hall Academy is growing by leaps and bounds — despite Gary’s cautionary letter. I hear they’re even looking to open a campus in Fort Smith.**
Meanwhile, if I were a betting woman, I’d say that Johnny Key has his eye on Springdale for its next state takeover. The Waltons always go for communities of color first when they want to dismantle a public school system.
Why does all of this matter?
Because Haas Hall Academy has been breaking finance-related laws ever since it opened. One quick example: Section 4.11 of “ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION RULES GOVERNING PUBLICLY FUNDED EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTION AUDIT REQUIREMENTS” says that mandatory, annual legislative audits cannot be conducted by the same accountant who handles a school’s other bookkeeping needs.
However, Tim Bunch (Haas Hall’s legislative auditor) has done all the financial work for The Academy, Inc. and The Academy Foundation, in addition to being its legislative auditor.
Haas Hall has never even tried to hide it.
Even without considering the likely violations of the civil rights of many children who have been preferentially enrolled/discriminated against, I think Haas Hall Academy has been ripping us all off, ever since it opened. It’s been happening in plain sight, with the enthusiastic support of all these powerful people who are charged with “oversight” and “accountability.”
Either they are incompetent, or they are wilfully covering up fraudulent behavior.
It’s time to hold THEM accountable.
Edited March 11, 2019 to add:
Today, Mark Henry emailed me to assert, “You have no facts on which to declare to the public that he has ever provided “non-audit services” to Haas Hall Academy. You have no documents on which to fairly conclude that he has anything to do with “non-audit services” for Haas Hall Academy.”
I responded, “I do have IRS forms 990 showing that Timothy A. Bunch is Haas Hall’s tax preparer as well as its legislative auditor. I’m happy to take down the picture, if Mr. Bunch requests it. However, I’ll leave up the statements unless you have documentation that Mr. Bunch is not doing the school’s taxes as well as its legislative audits.”
He responded, “None of the things you reference in your email relative to Tim Bunch — serving as “legislative auditor” and “tax preparer” are prohibited by Section 4.11.”
So now you can read the school’s position. Haas Hall’s lawyer says it’s not illegal for their tax preparer to be their legislative auditor. Here’s what the written rule says:
4.11 Licensed accountants shall not provide non-audit services to a school district, education service cooperative, or open-enrollment public charter school if the licensed account or his or her firm is also the auditor of the school district, education service cooperative, or open-enrollment public charter school. Nonaudit services include:
4.11.1 Accounting and bookkeeping services;
4.11.7 Legal and expert services unrelated to the audit.
I’m gonna need a judge to weigh in on this, I guess. (Especially since now the ADE is interpreting this rule in Haas Hall’s favor.)
*John Threet isn’t the only Fayetteville judge with ties to Haas Hall. Judge Joseph Wood spoke at Haas Hall’s commencement ceremony, at Marty Schoppmeyer’s invitation. Joseph also recommended Marty for the Charter Authorizing Panel at the ADE, in a letter to Johnny Key.
Yes, this is the same Joseph Wood who used to be on the board of Ecclesia College (yes, the one with the public corruption kickbacks.)
Joseph hired Shannon Worthen, Ecclesia’s 15-year CFO, as Washington County Comptroller — controlling an estimated budget of $68 million. Joseph is also dragging his feet on building a Crisis Stabilization Unit in Fayetteville, insisting that he wants Washington County to “partner with” private organizations (like Ozark Guidance, where Kim Davis used to work) to do the county’s work.
**When the Fort Smith school board voted to stop negotiating with the Fort Smith Education Association last fall, it was acting on a request from the Arkansas State Teachers Association (ASTA.) ASTA is funded by the Walton Family Foundation.
ASTA’s executive director is Michele Linch, who is also on the board of directors for a potential new charter school in Little Rock, Pioneer. If Michele’s new charter school gets approved by Johnny Key’s ADE, she’ll be on its board with David Davies, another University of Arkansas guy with “chancellor” in his title.