The Little Rock School Board voted tonight to extend Superintendent Dexter Suggs‘ contract by an additional year, as anticipated. The vote was split 4-3, with members Greg Adams, Norma Jean Johnson, Leslie Fisken and Jody Carreiro approving the contract extension, which included a 1 percent pay raise. C.E. McAdoo, Tara Shephard and Dianne Curry voted not to extend the contract.
For Johnson and Carreiro, who lost elections last week, the vote was their last major action as members of the board. Their replacements, Joy Springer and Jim Ross, will be sworn in as soon as tomorrow.
Suggs is just beginning the second year of the three-year contract he signed when he began his tenure as superintendent about a year ago. The extension tacks on an additional year to what remained of the original contract, meaning Suggs is now signed on for a three year period once again.
McAdoo and Curry said their votes were not against Suggs himself. “I want to continue, not extend,” McAdoo said. “It just has not been enough time for me.” Curry acknowledged that improvements had been made in the past year, but added, “I’d like to have seen more in academic improvement.” Shephard declined to comment on her vote.
As for the incoming members, Springer said she had no comment on the vote. Ross said it was “frustrating” that the board had taken a lame duck vote on the contract, “but there’s nothing we can do about it.” He said that he’d have said much the same thing as McAdoo. “The question is, can [Suggs] work with the new board? Will he follow our directions? He will. He’s a smart man.”
Johnson said that voting to extend Suggs’ contract was necessary because, “the public is watching…we have to show some stability. We can’t just keep bouncing people around.” Adams, the current board president, emphasized that re-upping the contract is “a vote of confidence in the superintendent.” Afterwards, he expressed confidence that the board — including its new membership — could still partner effectively with the superintendent. “I faithfully believe that every one of us who’s going to be on the board next month is going to work together with Dr. Suggs,” said Adams.
Here’s a couple of other items of interest the board also heard this evening:
*HALL HIGH: the board also unanimously approved the establishment of a planning committee to begin studying a possible restructuring of Hall High School, which Suggs told the board is now the lowest-performing school of any in the LRSD (elementary or secondary).
Any concrete recommendations on such a change are far, far away, but some are concerned that the restructuring could put a stop to effective programs at the school — especially the Newcomers’ Center, which is the LRSD’s main program for the city’s growing population of high-school-age Latino students. Teachers from Hall and representatives from LULAC, which advocates for the Latino community, voiced those concerns at the beginning of tonight’s board meeting.
A final report on whether and how a restructuring of Hall might occur is due to the board on January.
*OVERCROWDED MIDDLE SCHOOLS: During the public comment section of the meeting, a number of parents and students from Dunbar Middle School spoke about problems created by overcrowded and underequipped facilities there, including keyboarding classes with no computers, classrooms with more students than seats and over 30 fights in the first few weeks of class. In the weeks since this school year began, there’s been talk of student placement problems at other middle schools as well. Parents at Pulaski Heights Middle School have complained recently of haphazard schedule changes and classes filled past capacity.
Later, Suggs acknowledged that “we dropped the ball on Dunbar”, but said the problems were now being addressed by the district. He also said the reconfiguring of two middle schools, Forest Heights and Geyer Springs, have “caused some other hiccups along the way” in other buildings.
Support for education reporting provided by the Arkansas Public Policy Panel.