Two Little Rock School District Community Advisory Board members defended state leaders and the State Board of Education and their treatment of the LRSD at the board’s monthly meeting Thursday. On the eve of a likely decision from the State Board of Education on the future of the LRSD, CAB Chairman Jeff Wood said he trusted the State Board and asked the Little Rock community to keep an open mind. “Local control did not work in this city for a really long time,” he said. “If Model A doesn’t work and Model B doesn’t work, our only option isn’t to return to Model A. Let’s prioritize kids and not control and power.”
Board member Melanie Fox said she’d attended some of the community meetings on the future of the LRSD. “I heard a lot of things that weren’t true, that Asa and Johnny Key did all this to the school district.” She said state takeover discussions began under Governor Beebe. Asa Hutchinson became governor in January 2015. The State Board voted to take over the LRSD in February 2015. Johnny Key became education commissioner in March 2015.
Fox said when she was on the LRSD School Board (“the real board,” she called it), “The same schools we’re having trouble with now were on state-directed aid. I fault the state for not coming in sooner.”
Teresa Knapp Gordon, president of the Little Rock Education Association, presented her organization’s plan for an improved district. She called for the creation of Community Schools that are open to all members of the community with academic, social and health services provided all under one roof. She also suggested exploring teacher-led schools, a growing model across the country. Gordon said class sizes should be reduced, especially in struggling schools. Kindergarten classes should be capped at 14 students. Grades 1 through 12 should be capped at 20. City Year should be revamped to provide after-school enrichment, she said. Cultural competency and trauma training should be required for new teachers. She said that Teacher Fair Dismissal Act protections should be returned, especially for teachers working in struggling schools.
Wood asked Gordon if the LREA had studied the fiscal impact of her proposals. Gordon said that the payoff in the investment would mean that students would return to the district.
“I would hope that be correct,” Wood said. “It’s just that we are in an environment where we are having to reduce our budget almost annually by several million dollars, usually double-digit millions of dollars, so we find ourselves being very concerned on the impact of your proposals.”
Gordon said the budget is “a priority game.”
Only three of the seven-member CAB were in attendance in the interminable meeting. I left after three hours and it was still going.