The Little Rock School Board fired its superintendent Thursday but pledged to pay him the more than $400,000 remaining on his contract, splitting among racial lines in a dispute that drew new attention in a federal court that integrated local schools 50 years ago.
The board voted 4-3 to buy out Roy Brooks' pact with Arkansas' largest school system. Board members had been set to meet next week to discuss firing Brooks outright — without pay — but opted instead Thursday to give him an estimated $400,000-$500,000 over the next 90 days.
Board President Katherine Mitchell has said Brooks, who is black, has been nonresponsive to black school patrons, encouraged some teachers to leave their union and worked on draft state legislation without the board's approval.
The four black members of the board voted to fire Brooks; its white members voted to keep him.
Brooks' contract runs through June 30, 2009, but the agreement lets the board buy him out with 90 days' notice.
Brooks said after the meeting he was disappointed with the board's decision and noted the amount of time and money the district spent preparing for his coming termination hearing, scheduled for next week.
"It's unfortunate that taxpayers are footing the bill for what is a failure of fiduciary responsibility," Brooks said.
During the meeting, board President Katherine Mitchell blamed Brooks for creating an atmosphere that she said hindered the education of students.
"Yes, it is going to be costly to buy him out, but it is going to be more costly to keep him here," Mitchell said.
Brooks' annual salary is about $198,000.
First called for suspension
Mitchell had initially intended to suspend Brooks earlier this month but U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Eisele intervened, saying the district didn't give the superintendent sufficient notice of the allegations against him.
Rather than fight the judge, Mitchell dropped the suspension effort to concentrate on firing Brooks. The board had voted April 11 to give Brooks a list of charges that, if proven, could have warranted his firing without pay.
The list included allegations that Brooks gave pay increases and stipends to employees without authorization, was insubordinate and disrespectful and failed to show satisfactory gains in student achievement during his three years as head of the district.
The striking differences between the board's black and white members come just months after another federal judge ended five decades of court supervision of the predominantly black 27,000-student district. Last fall, the board achieved a black majority for the first time.
The district this year will mark the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School.