Little Rock School Superintendent Baker Kurrus confirms a number of personnel changes are in the works and also talks about his ideas about a future role in the school district after his contract ends June 30.
Some jobs have been eliminated – three in internal audit, for example, where duties will be picked up by others. Among others affected: the job of school accountability chief, now held by Dennis Glasgow, will no longer be a full-time job; the same for director of professional development and leadership, now held by Leon Sain. A change also will affect the office of chief academic officer, now held by Veronica Perkins.
Some jobs won’t go away. But special education, human resources and Title I departments are being reorganized. All employees in those departments got notice of non-renewal, but Kurrus said he hoped some would be rehired. But broad changes in the departments were needed and whoever is hired to lead them should be able to fill their staffs, he said. “It’s no reflection on the people,” he said.
The revamping of the Title I department will reduce a three-person staff to two. It’s now headed by Leon Adams.
“I’m worried about teaching and learning in the classroom and I’m putting as much rubber on the road there as I can,” Kurrus said.
He said he’s apologized for the way word trickled out about special education, an important department with many responsibilities. But he said it must be reorganized, not necessarily to save jobs.
Human resources, now nine people, will also be reorganized. One job recently vacated will not be filled.
There will be some straight reductions in force – perhaps 38 jobs in school security with a move at the elementary level to have moving patrols rather than a uniformed officer on the door of every elementary school. Also, the number of school aides will be reduced substantially. There are hundreds. Kurrus said aides can be reduced because teachers have agreed to have an hour rather than 15 minutes of duty time in addition to class time. They can take up some lunch and recess supervision that aides had done.
Kurrus said he’s hoping to reduce spending by $7 million to $8 million, by becoming more efficient but not cutting any classroom teachers. He said there will be reductions in math and reading specialists because each school has had one each, whether a school of 250 or 900 students. “They are very valuable, but we think we can deliver the same benefits without having one posted at one particular school all the time” They’ll be assigned to groups of schools and “provide the same service or close to it,” he said.
Kurrus said the decisions had been wrenching and he’d “cried” several times as he informed staff. “We have to do this to live within our our means. There’s no way around it. I wish there were.”
One imperative is the continuing drain of students to charter schools .Kurus told of multiple high-achieving students he’d met at Little Rock elementary schools recently who said they’d be moving to charter middle schools next year. “Every student we lose is $6,500 [in state aid] out the door,” he said. He emphasized that these were students succeeding academically, not students being “rescued” from failing schools as the Walton’s paid lobbyist, Greg Newton, repeatedly says.
Kurrus, if anything, is more outspoken than ever about the peril, and even unconstitutionality, embodied in growing charter schools, something that Commissioner Johnny Key and Asa Hutchinson seemed committed to in the name of “choice” and “competition.” Kurrus was fired and Bentonville Superintendent Mike Poore was named to succeed Kurrus six days after he spoke against charter school expansions before the state Board of Education.
One charter school plans an expansion of 120 students at a new campus on West Markham in the former Luthern school facility, he noted. “Where are we going to find another million [in lost money]?”
He rejects the idea of competition and choice as either a necessity or necessarily beneficial to students.
“The Arkansas Constitution doesn’t guarantee anybody the right to pick between two public school systems. It says you must have free and appropriate and efficient schools. It’s idiotic to have two systems if all you’re doing is offering two systems.”
He continued: “Look at who’s enrolling.” He refers to the difference in race, economics and achievement in charter schools, particularly two — eStem and LISA Academy— recently allowed further expansion. “We are giving people an opportunity to segregate. They do it themselves. But the state facilitates it. And you can’t justify it in my opinion.”
Kurrus said no competition is guaranteed by dual school district choices. “You just have two state systems, both state funded. That’s not efficient and I just don’t get it.”
As for a future role (Key and Hutchinson and Poore have all said they’d hope Kurrus would take a role with the district), Kurrus said he’d worked up a proposal to be a special assistant or special advisor to support Mike Poore. “I’d do whatever I could do as a volunteer.” He said he didn’t think it right for him to take money and appear to be “co-opted.” Nor would he see it as a full-time commitment. “I’d work maybe 10 hours a week on employee relationships, construction management, facilities analysis and coordination of education south of the Arkansas River [a future project the state Board of Education has begun].” He said he’d also like to help, perhaps as a liaison, to the seven-member community advisory board that Key is to appoint.
“I don’t want to punch a clock, but I’m here to help and if they want to call on me I’ll help.”
Kurrus said he’d tried to reach Key today but he was out of the office. He said they’d likely talk soon.
If they do call on Kurrus’ continued support, I’m guessing it won’t be for advice on charter schools.
Kurrus also acknowledged that he’d received some encouragement to consider entering politics and he was giving it some thought.
UPDATE: A preliminary report of cuts underway.