Arkansas Community Organizations, a grassroots organization that advocates for “low-income and working families across the state to enable them to fight for social and economic justice,” has written the following letter to the State Board of Education ahead of its meeting today on the fate of the Little Rock School District and the Little Rock teachers union.

Arkansas Community Organizations urges you to return the Little Rock School District to community control and to support the creation of community schools to address obstacles that prevent our children from learning and achieving.

We support the reinstatement of the elected school board as it was in January 2015 to govern the Little Rock School District until elections in 2020.  Two of the deposed school board members served on the board less than one year and six months.  Two other board members served less than six months.  A majority of the old school board was never given the chance to address problems that were a long time in the making and resulted from years of poor administrative leadership.

At the very least, we urge you to give Little Rock voters the chance to choose a seven member board in a special election in 2019 or early 2020.  A seven or nine member appointed advisory board is not representative of our community and would not (and should not) have the power to make important policy decisions.

We oppose the creation of a nine member board.  We are unclear why it is being proposed.  It would require drawing new zone boundaries that would have to be readjusted or redrawn for the 2022 elections.  If the State Board is proposing two additional members to be either appointed or elected at-large, we consider this to be an attempt to block efforts by the residents of Little Rock to elect a school board that is genuinely representative of the city’s population and the families currently served by the district. A board that includes at-large or appointed members violates the spirit of the Voting Rights Act.

The state takeover has not improved student outcomes.  It has not improved morale among teachers and non-certified employees.  The school district has had three superintendents during the last five years of state control.  We have seen schools closed, merged, reconstituted and reconfigured.  We have not seen improvements in the educational experience and outcomes for children from neighborhoods south of I-630.  Instead we have experienced instability and uncertainty.

We could not understand why the state would dismiss a duly elected school board and leave intact an administration that did not have a history of meeting the needs of low-income students.  We note that the first superintendent under state control had to resign because of allegations of plagiarism in the writing of his doctoral thesis – hardly a good example for our children.

We applaud Mayor Scott’s embrace of community schools even as we disagree with his governance proposal.  We hope that the Arkansas Department of Education, the City of Little Rock and other partners can work with the community to develop a plan to create schools that have wrap around services, a curriculum with arts and adequate physical activity, effective tutoring programs, after school activities and an openness to parental and community involvement.  Franklin Elementary School had the potential to be a pioneer in this effort, but unfortunately a bad decision was made that resulted in the closure of that school.

Our organization is a membership organization of low-income people.  We have recently been organizing tenants in complexes located in southwest Little Rock.  Many of the children in these complexes have to deal with unhealthy living conditions.  In Big Country Chateau many children are now living without gas service – no hot water, no way to cook on a stove and, with temperatures soon to drop, no heat.  In other places children hear gunshots on a regular basis and are exposed to shootings and violence.  Most of these families have a hard time making ends. It’s no wonder that many of these children walk into the classroom traumatized, worried and unable to focus on what is being taught in the classroom.

Community schools are designed to address problems that prevent children from learning and to create an environment that is caring and nurturing so that our children have a better chance for success.

If you really care about educational outcomes for our children in Little Rock, you will support the effort to create community schools in the district.  If you truly want to partner with the Little Rock School District to improve the educational experience for low-income children, then you must let us move forward with an elected school board and a joint agreement to work together to make every effort and put all the resources necessary to improve the education of low-income children in the LRSD.

Finally, we support the right of teachers and non-management employees to organize and have their own association.  We oppose the attempt to decertify the LREA.

Sincerely,

Donna Massey                                             Valencia White

President                                                       President

Arkansas Community Organizations       Southwest Little Rock Community Organization