State Education Commissioner Johnny Key, who’s controlled the Little Rock School District for four years since state takeover for deficiencies in test scores in six schools, announced this evening that he’d approved a contract agreement between the district and the Little Rock Education Association that includes a path to waiver of the teacher fair dismissal law that he’d sought over teacher objections.
Late this afternoon Commissioner Johnny Key approved the professional negotiated agreement between LRSD and LREA. This agreement clears a path for the Arkansas Department of Education to petition the State Board for a waiver from the Arkansas Teacher Fair Dismissal Act.
Commissioner Key stated, “This agreement is a win for students. A waiver from the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act gives the Little Rock School District the flexibility it needs to expedite critical staffing decisions, especially in areas where student learning is directly impacted. The agreement also meets my commitment to providing due process for staff, and it strengthens the district’s utilization of the Arkansas Teacher Excellence and Support System to drive instructional improvement.”
Neither the LREA, which represents LR teachers or the LRSD has issued a statement yet. The LREA membership must vote on the deal. Little Rock Superintendent Mike Poore said he wanted to withhold comment until teachers had voted on the agreement.
It includes a no-strike agreement. It also includes a variety of changes in grievance procedures, which are indicated in strike-throughs in the document. The key change comes when an employee reaches stage three of an adverse proceeding.
UPDATE: The LREA issued this statement late Tuesday night:
The Little Rock Education Association and Little Rock School District Negotiations Teams reached a Tentative Agreement on the Professional Negotiated Agreement today. The Agreement was signed by Commissioner Key and ratified unanimously by the LREA Membership this evening.
The LREA Negotiations Teams re-entered negotiations with clear goals defined by the LREA Membership. Those goals were to preserve the Professional Negotiated Agreement and to preserve due process for its members. We believe that we accomplished those two goals. We were able to define due process in the absence of Fair Dismissal protections and provide for it through the grievance process. In addition, we are able to continue to serve as the exclusive representative of the LRSD employees and to ensure that the contract continues as long as we are negotiating in good faith with the LRSD. It is important to note that the individual employee contracts guarantee that the Fair Dismissal laws remain in effect, at least contractually, throughout the remainder of this contract year so a waiver would not go into effect until those contracts are complete, which is June 30, 2019.
For clarification, Commissioner Key could have sought a waiver of the Fair Dismissal laws at any time from the State Board. The law that allows waivers does not exempt the district because of the Negotiated Agreement. Commissioner Key made it clear that he would seek the waiver of Fair Dismissal regardless of whether we had an Agreement or not. Only the State Board of Education has the power to deny that request. We hope that they will ask for justification of the need for the waiver and be thorough in their questioning and decision-making. When the time comes, we feel certain that the community members and parents will stand up and speak against the waiver at the State Board meeting. It concerns us greatly that Arkansas laws and Standards for Accreditation that were meant to ensure a quality public education in Arkansas are being so easily waived when they were created to set the standard.
The LREA educators of the LRSD will continue to put our students first and do the work necessary to educate our students. We are professionals. We are reasonable. We expect and deserve to be treated with the respect due our profession. We will not be pushed around. We will continue to stand for every single child in the Little Rock School District and look forward to working with the District to continue to highlight and celebrate the great things that are happening in our schools and in our district. The LREA sincerely appreciates the support shown by our parents and community members throughout these recent events and we look forward to continuing to develop those relationships and protect and serve our children through those partnerships.
Teresa Knapp Gordon
Little Rock Education Association
The agreement extends through Oct. 31, 2019 and covers all teachers in all LRSD schools, not just teachers in the 22 schools. The state Board of Education could meet on a waiver request Dec. 13.
To recap what brought things here: The LREA and LRSD, with Superintendent Mike Poore participating, had negotiated a new contract to replace one that expired Oct. 31 that included the routine continuation of protection of teachers under the state fair dismissal law. It provides for all teachers in the state an evaluation process, counseling and improvement efforts before a firing. It was a hard-won fact of law.
Key rejected a contract that didn’t include an agreement to waive that protection for teachers at 22 schools with D and F rankings, a score based heavily on standardized test scores. The 22 schools — like almost 200 schools in Arkansas with D and F grades — are primarily comprised of minority and poor students, who disproportionately score poorly on standardized tests. He contended the inability to summarily fire teachers was the reason for the lack of progress in the district, though he offered no numbers to support a contention that firing was difficult and though his own department is actually in charge of improving scores in the district.
Key has contended this isn’t about breaking the union, though its refusal to enter an agreement he approves WOULD spell ts end in Little Rock. He also has contended he’d only use a “scalpel,” not a chain saw, in removing teachers. He made this move at a time when even lauded charter schools such as
eStem KIPP in Helena, with waivers from the dismissal law and from the law requiring certified teachers, has recorded D grades. He’s asked for no reprisals against the charter schools.
Defenders of teachers and the LRSD rallied at the Education Department today. Key and Poore have both said they moved on this issue because of pressure to do something about the union, presumably from the wealthy charter school supporters at the Walton Family Foundation and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman, who’ve always tried to link school ills with unions.
This agreement leaves the union as an agent for teachers for the time being. Will Key, through Poore, move more rapidly against teachers than during the last four years (almost not at all)? We’ll see.