STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION: In session this morning.

At 9:02 a.m. today, after the state Board of Education had begun meeting on the future of the Little Rock School District, the state Department of Education responded to my Freedom of Information Act request yesterday for the framework proposed for “reconstituting” the district.

This article has been updated several times because of the meeting’s increasing craziness. It’s a **** show, a put-up job.

Lindsey Millar is covering the meeting. But here’s the document.

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In the event the Little Rock School District does not meet exit criteria on or before January 28, 2020, this State Board will reconstitute the District as follows:

  • Continue Level 5 – Intensive Support of the Little Rock School District;
  • Order the election of a 9-member local Board of Directors to take place in November of 2020. Local control will be returned to the Board of Directors, which may have limited authority as defined by the State Board, or which may operate under the direction and approval of the Commissioner of Education, as allowed under the Arkansas Educational Support and Accountability Act and rules.
  • Establish three categories of schools:
    • Category 1 will be schools with a 2019 letter grade of “D” or higher, which will operate under the elected 9-member Board of Directors;
    • Category 2 will be schools undergoing reconfigurations, which may operate under the elected 9-member Board of Directors; the State Board will determine which schools are included in Category 2; and
    • Category 3 will be schools with a 2019 letter grade of “F.” These schools will operate under different leadership than the remaining schools in the district, but in partnership with the District.

 

Many questions. What will limitations be on the school board? Who will operate the Category 3 schools? (Academics and personnel would be controlled by the Education Department, Education Commissioner Johnny Key said.)

More specifics are to come in months ahead.

Note the proposal expands the School Board from seven to nine members, which was allowed by legislation introduced by a west Little Rock Republican. How those districts are drawn will be influential in the shape of the board.

Nice touch: The live-streaming of a meeting for which 16 hours’ notice to the public was given was interrupted as Dr. Anika Whitfield was outlining her criticism of Johnny Key’s supervision of the district. Several others had also signed up to speak, but by 10:40 a.m., the livestream still wasn’t working. Dr. Anika Whitfield turned on her phone to livestream on Facebook.

Sen. Joyce Elliott sharply criticized the framework, particularly an absence of information about who’d run the F schools and the lack of advance information for the public. She said the meeting was called hastily. She urged the board not to vote on the framework without more input.

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Elliott said this wasn’t the board’s work. “This is not yours. It was given to you, just like it was given to us.”

Chair Diane Zook objected and, in my view, essentially admitted to a violation of the Freedom of Information Act, in spirit if not in fact. Zook said the individual board members had met individually with Key to arrive at the framework. Key said the document wasn’t completed until today but hadn’t been given to board members in advance.

Zook continues her inglorious time as a foe of Little Rock School District. She essentially dismissed the public outpouring at meetings for local control by saying there were others with different opinions who came to the board privately in phone calls and other ways. Shouted from the audience: “Walton. Stephens. Walter Hussman.”

The Board unanimously approved a framework it hadn’t seen until today and for which the public had no advance notice. At a minimum, we deserve an answer to the question of whether Key plans to bring in a private management company to run the F schools.

This was a put-up job, forecast by the pro-Key statements last night from the Hutchinson administration supporters on the puppet Community Advisory Board.

We won’t know until we know the final specifics, but it looks like a mere figleaf of local control.

As one audience member intoned after each “aye” vote: “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

UPDATE: Whitfield’s Facebook live video ended but I’ve now been informed by phone that after approval of the framework, Board member Sarah Moore moved to end recognition of the Little Rock Education Association as the bargaining agent for teachers. Moore is a former staff member of Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Her motion was seconded by Kathy McFetridge, another Hutchinson appointee.

The crowd objected loudly. Ali Noland said the public should be heard and there was agreement on that. Then the Board recessed before a vote or public comment. More to come.

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But put the blame for this right at the top: Asa Hutchinson. This is his gang from top, Key and board, to bottom, community advisory board. Little Rock School District supporters and teachers are getting but the shaft.

UPDATE: Now we’re back and hearing former state Rep. Clarke Tucker telling the board that there was a clear FOI violation by the board in discussing the framework approved today. He criticized the lack of notice for the meeting and implored them not to approve the LREA decertification motion today. All together he said of the board’s action, “This is the 2019 version of the segregation of Little Rock. If you do this, my guess is there’ll be no school in Little Rock Monday.”

Rep. Andrew Collins echoed Tucker.  Labor deserves a voice, he said. To see them thrown out in a quick and unannounced way is wrong, he said.

Brandon Markin
POORE: Objected to board proposals.

Superintendent Poore asked the board to think about good governance. Policy changes should be put out for public comment, he said. “We are setting ourselves up for tremendous disarray in our community.” He noted the district had already junked the teacher fair dismissal act.

LREA President Teresa Gordon spoke emotionally against the motion and said angrily that board member Moore had looked at her in the restroom during the break and “giggled.”

“For four a half years we have put students first through every single detrimental thing that has been done to us,” Gordon said.
Gordon said the Democrat-Gazette calls her a “union boss,” but “the kids are first in my heart.” Her child is an LRSD student she said, and if there’s a union vote to strike Monday, her child will be affected. But if it happens, she told the board, “You did this.”
Zook again brought up purported private communications, this time from those who say the LREA doesn’t speak for them. She says teachers can have a future role in the district personnel policy committee, which is now required under state law.
Hutchinson appointee Chad Pekron said he supported ending union recognition but he had a problem approving it without notice. “Something this important should have been on the agenda,” Pekron said.  He moved to table the motion. Fitz Hill seconded the motion. Board member Charisse Dean also said the item should have been on the agenda.
The tabling motion was approved by all but Moore. It delays the proposal until the October meeting. The current teachers’ contract expires Oct. 31.
This is rich. State Board meets openly in violation of FOI.

 

Friday afternoon, Johnny Key issued a statement insulting to the integrity of anyone who watched the meeting.

“Today the State Board of Education took action that is in the best interest of students who attend the Little Rock School District. The board did not make this decision lightly, as evidenced by the countless hours each member spent listening to public feedback, responding to numerous emails, and asking detailed questions. I commend the board for its diligence, for weighing all the facts, and for ultimately making a decision that balances local control and the constitutional responsibility of the state. I stand behind the board’s decision and am committed to implementing this framework with students at the forefront of all future efforts.”

Then came Gov. Asa Hutchinson with more hokum:

“I applaud the State Board of Education for providing a framework for the election of a Little Rock School Board. This is an important step in the return to local control with continued support from the state. The Board has been attentive to the public meetings on the future of the LRSD and has set forth a framework that puts the children first and gives our students the best opportunity for success in the future.”