JIM SORVILLO: Introduces legislation on school board size.

Sen. Joyce Elliott calls my attention to legislation filed by Rep. Jim Sorvillo, the West Little Rock Republican, that would continue to permit the expansion of the Little Rock School Board (currently non-existent with the district in state control) from seven to nine members.

Elliott wonders if the bill is intended to make it harder, should the district get democratic control back, to elect a black majority school board. The business community push to take over the district was driven by unhappiness about decisions of the recently constituted black majority on the board.

I’ve sent Sorvillo a question about his motivation for the legislation and will let you know what he says, if anything.

Here’s the bill.

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The law currently allows nine-member boards in districts with 24,000 or more students if they are not under a court order. Sorvillo’s proposal would reduce to 20,000 the enrollment at which point a district could expand board membership. Little Rock, under state control for four years, is no longer a defendant in a federal desegregation lawsuit. But it is also now too small to qualify under the law for a nine-ember board. It has experienced a steady decline in enrollment, from more than 25,000 in 2010 to less than 23,000 this year. Springdale is now the state’s largest school district with an enrollment of 23,480.

Thousands of students in the district have moved to charter schools and further expansions in the pipeline will likely take more. By the time the district gets a school board back (more on that shortly), it might not hit the 20,000 mark.

Racial balance of the board isn’t necessarily overcome by additional seats, except for the fact that black and brown residents haven’t historically voted in proportion to their percentage of the population in Little Rock. Still, the Little Rock School District is much smaller than Little Rock as a whole, which has a population about 40 percent black. Most of predominantly white far western Little Rock is not in the Little Rock School District. According to 2017-18 Census data, the district has a population of children 18 and younger of 43,673, of whom 17,420 are white, 23,742 are black and 1,482 are Latino. Though roughly 40 percent of children in the district are white, only 18 percent of students in LRSD are white.

About resumption of local control:

A state Education Department official said earlier this year that law required an election in 2019 on restoring an elected school board. However, the state Board of Education has not yet officially put  steps in motion to schedule an election next year. That has given rise to concern that Education Commissioner Johnny Key, now in control of the district, does not intend to allow an election to be held until November 2020, almost six years after the district takeover in January 2015. In theory, the state takeover is limited to five years. A longer period without state control gives more time for unfettered growth of charter schools in Little Rock along with major meddling in district operations, which seem likely based on rising state Board Chair Diane Zook’s breathtaking outline yesterday of ways in which she intends to take control of administrative hiring and firing, teacher ousters and even facility use. Democracy in action it is not.