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story.lead_photo.caption FILE — Little Rock School District headquarters are shown in this 2019 file photo. - Photo by Gavin Lesnick

The Dec. 1 runoff election for two seats on the newly established Little Rock School Board features candidates whose support comes from two camps -- the district's employees association and business and philanthropic leaders.

On the ballot are Tommy Branch Jr. and Evelyn Hemphill Callaway, who are running from Zone 3, and FranSha' Anderson and Vicki Hatter, who are vying for the Zone 6 seat on the new board.

The runoff candidates were the top two vote-getters in four-person races in the Nov. 3 election. In neither zone did a candidate receive more than the 50% of votes needed to avoid a runoff.

Gallery: Races to fill out new School Board

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Early voting in the two races will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday and Nov. 30 at the following locations:

• Pulaski County Regional Building, 501 W. Markham St., Little Rock.

• Little Rock William F. Laman Library, 2801 Orange St., North Little Rock.

• Sidney S. McMath Library, 2100 John Barrow Road, Little Rock.

• Hillary Clinton Children's Library, 4800 W. 10th St., Little Rock.

Polls will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Election Day, Dec. 1.

The winners will join the newly elected Michael Mason, Sandrekkia Morning, Leigh Ann Wilson, Ali Noland, Norma Johnson, Greg Adams and Jeff Wood on the school district's first elected board in nearly six years.

The 21,000-student district has been without an elected board since January 2015 when the state Board of Education voted 5-4 to take control of the district because of academic distress. The takeover included dissolving the then-seven-member elected board and placing the superintendent under state direction. The Education Board voted in late 2019 to return the district to local governance -- with some restrictions -- after the election of a new board.

In Zone 3, Branch, 47, an assistant director of day programs at Friendship Community Care, received 2,063 votes of the 6,949 votes in the general election.

Callaway, 69, a retired Little Rock School District teacher, received 1,875 votes in that contest, which also included Monica Wiley and Michael Sanders.

"Being a previous board member, I have that experience," Branch said about why he should be elected over his opponent, Callaway.

Branch was appointed to the School Board in 2012 to fill a vacancy created by the death of Michael Peterson. Branch ran for the seat in 2013 but was defeated in a three-way race. Later, he was appointed to and chaired the state-related Pulaski County committee set up to identify ways that traditional and charter schools could collaborate.

"I just want to be a fair voice for everybody," said Branch, the father of two, including an elementary school-aged daughter.

FINANCIAL SUPPORT

Branch's early financial support came from the Arkansas Learns school-choice advocacy organization as well as others who are prominent in business and philanthropy, according to campaign contribution report filed with the Pulaski County clerk's office. That first report also showed that he had spent $26,129 more than he had received on the campaign -- a deficit he said he hopes to erase with additional fundraising.

While Callaway has the endorsement of the Little Rock Education Association, Branch said he has had that endorsement in the past, and that if elected he would work to bridge the gap with the association.

Branch's candidacy for the School Board comes as he awaits a June 30 trial on charges of driving while intoxicated and prohibited driving stemming from his arrest at 3:39 a.m. Sept. 20 at Interstate 30 East and Interstate 430. A breath sample resulted in a test result of 0.18%, according to Arkansas State Police records, twice the legal minimum of.08% for intoxication

Branch, who is represented by attorney Marcus Devine, said he couldn't talk about the arrest other than to say he is going to court "to fight for innocence."

Callaway, who began her education career in Kansas City, started work in the Little Rock district at Central High in 1976, moving to Henderson Junior High and then Parkview High and Southwest Junior High, before landing at J.A. Fair High from 1989 to 2014 in the field of family consumer science. She said she loved teaching in career technical education and never had an interest in being an administrator. She has been thinking of a school board run since her retirement six years ago.

"I have a lot of expertise in education and I think that is what we need instead of someone who doesn't really know," said the 41-year teaching veteran.

DIVERGENCE ON SCHOOLS

In her campaign, Callaway has advocated for investment in career technology -- particularly in middle schools, to a results-based reading intervention program, equitable procedures for placing students in special-education programs and expansion of school health clinics -- with services that include a focus on mental health.

Callaway said that as a former teacher and union member, "I support collective bargaining."

"In fact many of the rights and benefits that employees enjoy today are the result of collective bargaining," she has said. She also has said she would not favor an organization that is not student-centered nor could she support an organization that would hinder corrective actions against those who are not committed to student achievement and reasonable ethics.

As for a new traditional high school in the northwestern section of the city, which some residents have called for, Branch said that is a matter to be assessed by the new board.

Callaway said she she wants, as a top priority, equity between older and new schools. As for a west Little Rock high school, she said she would be hesitant to support a new school that would cause an extreme adverse effect on other schools and that the funding for the new school would be challenged.

"But it is also very clear that long-term funding would be increased by an increase in student counts that this school would bring. Inherently, students would return from charter and private schools to attend a school in this area. But again, let's take care of the schools we have currently."

Zone 6

Anderson, 54, received 2,373 of the 6,160 votes cast in the Nov. 3 election in Zone 6. Hatter, 42, received 1,791, with Lou Jackson and Chris Kingsby receiving the remaining votes.

Anderson is chief executive officer of the Arkansas State Independent Living Council and an adjunct professor at Webster University. She was supported early in her race with contributions from Arkansas Learns and others that include businessman Ronald Cameron and philanthropist Lisenne Rockefeller.

The mother of two adult daughters with special needs and two adopted elementary school-aged pupils, Anderson most recently served as president of the Little Rock Parent Teacher Association Council. The council is made up of the presidents of each of the school parent-teacher associations.

Hatter, 42, who works for a fleet management firm, is endorsed by the Little Rock Education Association. The mother of two is a longtime advocate for local control of the Little Rock district. She has over time addressed the state Board of Education, legislative committees, and community rallies about the Little Rock district. She also has spoken in opposition to school closings, supported teachers angry over loss of union recognition and participated in dialogues about the district and its exit from state control.

Most recently Hatter has been a part of the Ford Next Generation Learning initiative to establish career academies in all Pulaski County traditional high schools, including those in Little Rock.

"Honestly, I am a mom who saw some problems and stepped in to help solve them, and began to amplify [the voices] of my fellow parents, then students, teachers and community ... in different rooms and spaces that I found myself in," Hatter has said.

ELIGIBILITY QUESTIONS

Little Rock attorney Matt Campbell, author of the decade-old Blue Hog Report blog in which he watchdogs over state and local governments and public officials, has challenged Anderson's eligibility to run for or serve in elected office.

Campbell said that Anderson is ineligible to run or serve on the school board as the result of misdemeanor hot-check convictions in the 1990s -- which have since been sealed but not before Campbell took screen shots of court records and posted them on his blog. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette viewed those documents on the blog's post.

Additionally, Campbell has cited a 2006 Bureau of Legislative Audit report that noted that Anderson -- who is also known as Dametrice FranSha' Burke -- pleaded guilty to one count of theft of property, a Class A misdemeanor, tied to personal credit card charges and travel reimbursements totaling about $30,000 while she was with the Arkansas Transitional Employment Board.

In response to Campbell's blog post from August, Anderson has told the Democrat-Gazette that Campbell "had pulled up a record that was sealed," and "I paid my debt."

Anderson describes herself as a team player and one who is sensitive to special-needs students because of her experience in raising children who are deaf and one who is autistic. She also has fostered and adopted her two young cousins.

Anderson said that her executive leadership training is another qualifier for her election, providing her with "more leverage to use to lead and follow while making real change that will affect a child for the rest of his or her life."

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