The Civic Advisory Committee of the Little Rock School District tonight approved a resolution calling for the replacement of Education Commissioner Johnny Key, a halt to charter school expansions in the city and waivers to state education law, and a return of the district to local control.
The vote was a symbolic one. The CAC is an advisory group that was set up by the state Board of Education last year after that body authorized the state to take over the LRSD in January 2015. The state board created the CAC to act as a liaison between it and the community, but the group is vested with no real power aside from giving a venue to community voices.
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Those voices tonight were calling for Gov. Hutchinson to get rid of Key, who set off a torrent of criticism when the news broke last week that he had he fired LRSD Superintendent Baker Kurrus. The motion was made by Dr. Anika Whitfield and gained the approval of all those present, including Dionne Jackson and former LRSD school board president Greg Adams (the co-chairs of the CAC). Little Rock City Directors Kathy Webb and BJ Wyrick also supported Whitfield’s motion.
Note that the motion did not call directly for the reinstatement of Kurrus as superintendent. Although the circumstances of the firing have provided a moment of rare unity for education advocates in Little Rock, not everyone wants to make “bring back Kurrus” the rallying cry moving forward.
“I think it was wonderful teamwork. There are people who certainly feel differently about what happened, as far as how it relates to Baker. … But I think everyone was able to agree that it should not be about the person,” Whitfield said later in the evening. “It should be about making sure the process was fair and the community is engaged.”
“What happened was basically dictatorship,” she said, adding that Key’s announcement of Kurrus’ replacement, former Bentonville Superintendent Michael Poore, “just came out of the blue. There was no conversation with the CAC about putting another superintendent in, about a superintendent search. … There was nothing from the state Board of Education or Johnny Key that this was in the works, so all of us were caught off guard. There was no direct communication. All that is very disappointing, because we were supposed to be the liaison between the community and the Department of Education. It’s difficult to advise if you’re not invited to the table.”
Whitfield emphasized that the motion tonight was not intended to undermine the incoming superintendent. “Our committee is not against Poore. We’re against the process of how it happened. The way that it happened was unacceptable.”
As for Key, however, “we strongly feel that it is time for him to go.”
The Civic Advisory Committee may not be around much longer, as Key has said he intends to expedite the process of appointing a different body, a “Community Advisory Board,” the creation of which is mandated under state law after a district has been taken over by the state. The CAC, in contrast, was solely a construction of the state board in the context of the LRSD takeover. Unsurprisingly for a body formed under such a vague and tenuous mandate, it has struggled to find its purpose this past year — and according to Whitfield, has largely been ignored by the education commissioner.
Whenever it’s created, the Community Advisory Board will have slightly more power than the existing CAC and will gradually accrue additional responsibility as the district proceeds towards an exit from takeover. The idea is that a Community Advisory Board transitions gradually towards elections and full autonomy. Whitfield said the CAC hasn’t been told by the commissioner when its successor body will be formed, nor how the selection process will occur. But Key will presumably be the one naming its members.