Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott asked the State Board of Education to take up a new proposal for the future governance of the Little Rock School District today at a news conference. Under his plan, the state would scrap the controversial framework for the LRSD the State Board approved last month. See video of the proposal below.
Under the state framework, a new, nine-person school board would be elected November 2020. Schools that are rated “F” under the state accountability system would operate under “different” as-yet-unspecified leadership. Other schools, slated to be combined or somehow otherwise be reconfigured, “may” operate under a locally elected board, under the state’s plan.
“We want full and complete local control of all LRSD schools,” Scott said. “Any plan that separates any schools from LRSD denies agency for the very students, teachers and families that must take ownership of their schools if they are to thrive.”
Under Scott’s plan, a temporary, appointed school board would manage the district from Jan. 1 until a new board was in place after November 2020 elections.
The temporary board would be made up of members appointed by the state and city representatives. Scott said details on who precisely would do the appointing and how many appointments would be made by the city vs. the state still needed to be fleshed out.
Why propose allowing the state to appoint members to a local board? Scott said he’d been negotiating with state leaders behind the scenes, and that allowing the state to have input was simply an acknowledgement of the power dynamics. “The state is in control. We have to recognize that. They’re making the decisions right now.” He said the temporary board would provide more community input than if the state remained in charge of the district through November 2020.
Scott said he’d want the temporary board to act as a limited custodian of the school district and only make “nonconsequential decisions.”
The State Board of Education is slated to consider a motion to direct Education Secretary Johnny Key, who acts as the school board for the LRSD under state control, to end recognition of the Little Rock Education Association teachers union after its contract expires Oct. 31. Scott said a decision on whether the district should negotiate with a union should be left up to a locally elected school board.
“Under this plan, our priority is that the LRSD district be locally controlled,” Scott said. “If you have a locally controlled school district, that locally controlled district will determine having a union. We support our teachers and the way to get to that is to have a locally controlled school district.”
Scott said, under a locally elected board, the district should continue to oversee the “F”-rated schools under a memorandum of understanding with the state education department. That echoes an unsuccessful proposal former State Board member Jay Barth (who also writes for the Times) made before the State Board voted to take over the district in 2015.
Many in the community fear that the “different leadership” in the state framework would mean a charter management company. Instead, Scott said the “F” schools should operate as “community schools,” “where wrap-around services aimed at both students and their families would address systemic poverty that grips certain Little Rock neighborhoods.”
Scott said he’d discussed the plan with Governor Hutchinson and Key and “they were very intrigued by the idea.” I’ve asked for official comment from each, and will update if I hear back. (UPDATE: Key said he had not seen the proposal yet and wouldn’t comment, but we’ve provided a copy and asked again.)
Hutchinson said, “It is always good news when the City is supportive of the School District. While the state has the ultimate responsibility under our Constitution, it takes many partners for a school district to be successful. I know the State Board of Education and the Department of Education will carefully evaluate the Mayor’s comments.”
State Board Chairwoman Diane Zook said by email, “Partnerships with parents, VIP’s, the faith community, Boys and Girls clubs, the city, etc. would all be helpful for students in all the schools.”
Zook said she wasn’t in favor of a newly appointed temporary board.
“I see no need to replace the current [Little Rock Community Advisory Board] members who have volunteered their time and worked tirelessly becoming familiar with every aspect of the of LRSD over three-plus years with a temporary board who would serve less than a year.”
Scott also said that the city would hire a chief education officer by Jan. 1 to “coordinate the major undertaking of connecting city, LRSD and state involvement regarding education, equity and support for children and families.” He said that some money to pay for the new position could come from a foundation.
He also said the city of Little Rock would work to strengthen its partnership with the LRSD through the following initiatives:
* Holistic care for our youngest residents, prenatal through age five,
* Free pre-K,
* Out-of-school and summer enrichment and remediation for students who need help to reach grade level as well as students who are seeking additional challenges,
* Increased access to social and emotional learning and literacy initiatives,
* And partnerships to give Little Rock residents access to workforce development and skills training.
Those would be paid for by “targeting” Prevention, Treatment and Intervention funds in the city’s budget, he said. There’s about $5 million allocated for PIT in the budget now.
Flanked by five City Board members and other elected officials, Scott said a “united front” was behind the plan. City directors B.J. Wyrick, Erma Hendrix, Kathy Webb, Capi Peck and Ken Richardson attended, along with state Rep. Tippi McCullough (D-LR), state Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock) and Arkansas Education Association President Carol Fleming. Scott said the directors not present — Lance Hines, Dean Kumpuris, Joan Adcock, Gene Fortson and Doris Wright — all had conflicts and that Fortson was out of town.
UPDATE: Hopeful as the Little Rock proposal seems to be, the unanswered question is whether the state Board of Education will be move to grant full local control when it had shown no such inclination previously.
To add to the debate, the Arkansas Public Policy Panel has added its voice against the previous state plan, which it says has “dangerous segregation consequences.” The statement also notes the state has never improved a district it has taken over for academic distress. A deeper, broader strategy is in order.