About 200 members of the Little Rock Education Association met tonight and voted unanimously to reject a contract proposal from the Little Rock School District, according to union president Cathy Koehler.
The same group voted, with one dissent, in a “no confidence” vote in Superintendent Dexter Suggs, only on the job since summer. The contract is only part of teachers’ unhappiness. Koehler cited an inability to have conversations with the superintendent about issues, as the group had had with past superintendents. “I would love to have a real conversation with him,” she said. But most union concerns go unanswered or are met with monosyllabic answers, she said.
The district has said it couldn’t afford more than a 1.5 percent raise for teachers this year. That won’t be enough to cover health insurance cost increases for many, teachers say. Teachers contend Suggs has added enough new assistant principal and special assignment teacher jobs to pay for another 1 percent increase, given a $39 million district surplus.
The district and union will now go to a federal mediator to continue contract discussions.
Koehler said the no-confidence vote wasn’t a signal that the union wanted Suggs replaced. She said the teachers understood the district and the community didn’t need another superintendent change at this juncture after years of turmoil. But she said she hoped it would provoke a discussion and encourage the School Board to exert some influence on more useful leadership by Sugg.
Among complaints from teachers, Koehler listed:
* A year-opening “bus speech” by Suggs to teachers in which he said some would be thrown off the bus and some should have been thrown off before he arrived. It set a combative tone, she said.
* The “We Promise” district publicity campaign. Teachers feel it suggests they’d been not committed to kids and education before Suggs arrived.
* Inconsistent enforcement of discipline, with some administrators not backing up teachers on disruptive students.
* A plan to put iPads in several of the district’s more affluent schools — such as Forest Park, Roberts, Otter Creek and Gibbs — rather than needy schools where many more children had no computer access at home.
* Reorganization of Geyer Springs and Forest Heights schools with little information to teachers who are there now about future plans.
She said a survey of teachers found about 66 percent with low morale. She cited a lack of collegiality with the administration.
She faulted the School Board, too, for not asking more tough questions about some of Suggs’ proposals.
I’ve tried to get a message to Suggs for response.