The state Board of Education will meet this morning in special session to discuss waiving the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act for all teachers in the Pine Bluff and Little Rock School Districts, both currently under state control. Most expect that the waiver will be approved, though Education Commissioner Johnny Key had indicated the change wouldn’t apply until next year. The change would grease the wheels for firing teachers without the current legally required process of evaluations and improvement efforts.
Critics argue that it represents an effort to break the teachers union and the latest power play by Key and the state, who have been in control of the district for four years with no measurable improvements. In a letter this morning, Vice Mayor Kathy Webb, who represents Ward 3 on the Little Rock City Board, wrote a letter to the members of the state Board of Education, arguing that the proposed waiver would add “additional uncertainty to the lives of the kids in the LRSD” and requesting a return to local control. Here is Webb’s letter in full:
Dear Dr. Barth and Members of the State Board of Education:
I’m sorry I can’t be with you today, but I hope you’ll take a moment to read my email opposed to waiving the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act.
As a product of the LRSD, a former member of the Civic Advisory Committee, former Little Rock legislator, member of the Hall Alumnae organization, volunteer in the LRSD, and current Vice Mayor of Little Rock, I strongly oppose waiving the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act (TFDA) in the LRSD. This waiver would add additional uncertainty to the lives of the kids in the LRSD. I’ve received negative feedback from parents and teachers about this waiver. To treat our teachers differently than teachers in the 240+ other school districts is not ok for our kids, teachers, or city.
Since the state took control of our school district almost four years ago, we have seen more schools receive lower grades. We have seen a proliferation of charter schools, without the same level of oversight our LRSD schools have. We have seen additional school closures in parts of our city that can least afford it. Waiving TFDA is not the answer.
Thousands of volunteers work alongside our dedicated teachers and staffs, mentoring kids, making sure they have the food necessary to thrive, coats to stay warm, and more. We in our city have continued to demonstrate our support for the kids in the LRSD in these and many ways, yet the state and state board have not reciprocated. Please do not remove the TFDA. And restore local control.
Vice Mayor, Little Rock
Zook, a longtime critic of the district, sounded like she was auditioning to become LRSD superintendent. She lives in Izard County and is the aunt of Gary Newton, who is paid $230,000 a year to head an organization financed by the Walton fortune to advocate for charter schools and criticize the LRSD. A number of her proposals could be up for consideration at the meeting today*. Here’s the agenda item:
In July of 2017, the State Board classified the Little Rock School District as in Need of Level 5 Intensive Support pursuant to the Arkansas Educational Support and Accountability Act (AESAA). Under Ark. Code Ann. § 6-15-2916, if a school district receives this classification, the State Board may take various actions including waiving education-related laws. These may include the waiver of the application of both the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act (Ark. Code Ann. § 6-17-1501 et seq.) and the Public School Employee Fair Hearing Act (Ark. Code Ann. § 6-17-1701 et seq.), on onsite monitoring of the district’s special education program and how funds are distributed to support all schools and programs, adoption and implementation of a science of reading based literacy curriculum, reorganization of Hall High School, and reconstitution and reorganization of central office.
*A previous version of this item incorrectly said that only the waiver of the fair dismissal law was on the agenda.