ZOOK: Plans to ask for a waiver of the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act for ALL LRSD employees. Brian Chilson

It took a Freedom of Information Act request (by me and at least one other) to shake loose Education Czar Johnny Key’s previously secret plan to ask for law waivers in his operation of the state-run Little Rock School District. On the table will be a motion to be presented by Board member Diane Zook, a long-standing critic of the district, to waive the teacher fair dismissal law for ALL Little Rock school teachers.

Previously, Key had refused a new contract with the Little Rock Education Association until it included a waiver of the employment law. He had said he wanted the flexibility to achieve expedited firing of teachers at the 22 schools judged in poor academic status based on standardized test scores. The contract change didn’t limit the ability to petition for a waiver to only the 22 schools, however, and now the Board, in what seems likely to produce a rubberstamp vote judging by past history, will be asked to waive it for all teachers.

The waiver would apply immediately and extend through the 2019-20 school year.

This means none of the legally required evaluations and improvement efforts would be necessary to fire any teacher, whether in schools graded A or F. A fired teacher could file a grievance procedure.

Advertisement

This puts the LRSD on a par with virtually every charter school in the state in waiving the fair dismissal law. The difference is that the state Education Department exerts nominal control over charter schools and has never raised a complaint about the teachers in them, most of whom also are free from the certification requirements that apply to real public school teachers.

The unspecified plan for waivers caused concern, justifiably it turns out, among LRSD advocates who are anxious to be free of state control of the school district. It has produced no measurable improvement in the district since takeover four years ago and it is singularly being held responsible for the universal experience of low test scores among poor children, who happen to be also predominantly from minority backgrounds.

Until FOI responses today (mine came at 4:48 p.m.) the plans for the Thursday meeting were secret. The responses indicate Zook will introduce the motion, as she did without prior public notice for the state takeover of the Pine Bluff School District. Transparency isn’t a hallmark of the Hutchinson-Key education hierarchy.

The sum total of my FOI response was an email from Zook with a copy of the motion she plans to introduce. If she and Key discussed the issue (which they must have done for the agenda item to reach publication) no record exists. Her email also makes a reference in the subject line to “random notes.” They are shown here. She mentions a need for evaluation of administrators, too.

This is a continuation of the effort to 1) destroy teachers unions in Arkansas (the LREA is the last unit with a representation contract) 2) and to maximize state control of school districts while also eating the heart out of regulation of them. Those who have no heart for the LREA need to understand that a reduction of protection for any teacher is a reduction for all teachers. Also that the turning away from accountability standards is not a path to higher education standards. The failure of school “choice” experiments around the country illustrate that.

Dr. Michael Mills, an education professor and LRSD parent who’s written critically about state administration of the district, also made a request for records about the waiver this morning and got the same response I did.

No internal request on paper to put the item on the agenda? It just appeared there magically? This is the Hutchinson Education Department at work.

Advertisement

It’s not likely to get any better with Zook soon to rise to chair of the state Board. (It is a good time to remember that the Waltons are the primary financier of her nephew Gary Newton’s $230,000 a year job as lobbyist for charter schools, unfettered school district transfer and the notion that no-good teachers and sorry democratically elected school board members were responsible for low test scores among a group that, demographically, has defied systemic improvement, including at Walton-backed charter schools.

After the union teachers are fired, then who will Key blame for his department’s “failure” in Little Rock.