A STEP BACK: The AEA has a negative milestone to add to its list of achievements on fair dismissal law. Johnny Key has targeted rolling it back for teachers in 22 schools.

So much is wrong about Education Commissioner Johnny Key’s move to make it easier to fire select Little Rock School District teachers, but one point that’s being overlooked is how easy it already is to fire teachers.

Key wants to be given leave to end recognition of a contract with the Little Rock Education Association as he sees fit and also wants them to accept a waiver to the state teacher fair dismissal law, which provides a hearing process before a teacher may be fired.

Key admitted the move is on account of unspecified pressure to take action against the union. He also claimed a need for “flexibility” to move quickly, but only in 22 schools judged a D or F in the state’s arbitrary, demographic-blind grading system. Not against other Little Rock schools. Not against other D and F schools anywhere else in the state.

So about flexibility and the protections afforded by state law: First, Key was only able to dig up, maybe, one case of a pre-K teacher who raised a due process objection to firing (and apparently was fired.) But that isn’t the whole story. Here’s more on that law from a veteran Little Rock lawyer whose practice includes employment law and representing teachers.

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The milquetoast character of the Fair Dismissal Act needs to be emphasized way more.

The truth is that, yes, it provides some due process, but the actual substantive restrictions on discipline and termination are not difficult at all for any moderately diligent supervisor to employ against a deficient teacher, and in fact this Act is often used successfully against teachers who a principal simply doesn’t like, for any of a million reasons. Don’t forget: it’s the local school board that hears any case under this Act, not some truly neutral adjudicator, and unless the superintendent has flatly screwed up on a clear and crucial fact issue (or the popular coach is being screwed), the school board is going to uphold the superintendent. Circuit Court review of such a board decision is on a very restrictive review basis — the Court does not hear the matter anew, and thus you’re not regularly seeing Circuit Court reversals of school board decisions. . .

This entire notion that this Act “protects” teachers is a bad joke. Teachers are fired right and left all the time, without sufficient substantive protection that only comes from a neutral adjudicator. Superintendents (and Johnny Key) want the ability to fire teachers on the spot with no process whatsoever, and no accountability for even a decently articulated reason, much less a proven one.

The average person, even one who is otherwise interested in and concerned about the schools, has no idea whatsoever what really goes on with this law.

The Waltons and Asa Hutchinson and Republican legislators want the Little Rock teachers union busted. Period. It’s one of a very few Arkansas Education Association affiliates that represent a district’s teachers in negotiation and the largest. Key earlier tried to get it busted by claiming insufficient membership but fell short on that ploy.

Note, too, that Key was disingenuous in comparing his decision to allow a greatly watered down agreement with the LREA to continue while the Pulaski County School District teachers union was decertified when it was taken over by the state. The rest of that story was that the then-Pulaski superintendent Jerry Guess and the then-state education commissioner Tom Kimbrell were willing to negotiate with the Pulaski union on a continuing contract, but the union wouldn’t negotiate on any givebacks and thus lost its position. The LREA made numerous concessions, including a dramatically streamlined contract.

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The thanks LREA gets now is a unilateral attack on a bedrock, hard-won law by Johnny Key, who as a senator and now as Education director, has always given the Walton school lobby what it wanted. That has notably included rapid proliferation of charter schools.

Baker Kurrus, the superintendent Key fired for opposing charer proliferation, noted yesterday that the state has the ability to determine what type of students have been lost by LRSD to charters. It could be they were disproportionately achieving students, thus producing the increasing number of low-scoring scores in the LRSD under the school board leadership of Johnny Key The state Board of Education once fired a Little Rock school board for low scores in six schools. School Board Johnny Key, with now 22 low-scoring schools, appears in no jeopardy of losing his job.

UPDATE: Anthony Bland, Democratic nominee for lieutenant govenor, issued a statement:

Dr. Anthony Bland, the Democratic nominee makes a call to action today for his support of Arkansas students, teachers, and staff. Arkansas, we consistently see inadequate sustenance in our state government. Our current government officials are supporting the destruction of public schools. Our children are about to fall victim to more corruption. We need your voice and support to end this devastating course that our public schools, teachers, and staff are being forced to bear. I urge you to take a moment and open your eyes to the realities that we are facing in our state government. Chaos only continues when there is no one willing to clean it up. “Speak Up and Speak Out Arkansas.” Let us take back our communities and our voice from corrupt state government officials.

Little Rock Schools had six distress schools before state takeover, now twenty-two distressed schools after state take over. What has your silence produced?

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