Teresa Knapp Gordon, president of the Little Rock Education Association, the teachers union that represents Little Rock School District educators, sharply criticized the State Board of Education’s framework for the future of the LRSD and hinted at an impending teacher strike at a community meeting at First United Methodist Church in downtown Little Rock Monday night. Gordon said there were efforts to organize parents and students to prepare for what she repeatedly called the “s-word.”
State Board of Education member Sarah Moore made a surprise motion at the end of a hastily called special State Board meeting to direct Education Secretary Johnny Key, who acts as the LRSD school board while the district is under state control, to stop recognizing the LREA as LRSD teachers’ official bargaining agent. The board tabled Moore’s motion until its Oct. 10 meeting.
“Do we want to take an action that means walking out on our students? No, that’s the last thing we want to do,” Gordon said. “But you can bet your bottom dollar this: If that’s what it takes to make sure our children our protected, then that’s what we will do.”
Gordon said the state plan would resegregate the district, a claim that many have made since the board approved the framework Sept. 20 and one that Governor Hutchinson disputed last week.
“Their segregation plan drives our students back to 1957 and into a second crisis for Little Rock,” Gordon said. “It’s unjust and will harm our students by creating a separate and unequal district.”
She said the takeover had been “feckless and counterproductive” and claimed that the state education department had rarely been in LRSD school buildings before January of this year.
“Our students deserve one LRSD governed by a locally elected school board with full decision-making authority,” she said. “That includes the voices of educators at the table when the decisions affecting our students are being made.”
Gordon said that more than 70 percent of Little Rock teachers were LREA members. She said that the group has “had a place at the table” for almost 55 years. “Much of our professional negotiated agreement became state law to improve classroom standards for accreditation in the state of Arkansas,” she said.
Addressing a common disparagement of teachers unions, Gordon said, “We don’t protect bad teachers, we protect due process. We will stand for our kids, just like we stand for our educators.”
Gordon praised LRSD Superintendent Mike Poore, who she noted was the district’s longest-serving leader since the late 1980s. She said that State Board Chair Diane Zook’s initial refusal to let Poore speak at the Sept. 20 meeting suggested that his days may be numbered. She said his dismissal would halt progress the district has made under his tenure.
Gordon said she’d heard from some teachers whose schools would fall under the framework’s category 1 and would be governed by a locally elected school board. She said they’d told her they didn’t think they’d be negatively affected by the plan. She said the category 3 schools, which under the framework would be under separate, unspecified leadership, would be just the start. Many LRSD supporters fear that a charter management company will be brought in to manage those schools.
“If the charters get in, they won’t stop until they have every single school in our district,” Gordon said. “Breaking up our district breaks up our communities. Our students will not be used as pawns in the money game that seems to be the priority of the state’s leadership.”