Colin Jorgensen is an LRSD parent and an attorney.
The markup below is the state’s “Framework” for LRSD following the October 10 meeting at which the State Board of Education approved Chad Pekron’s motion to purportedly return full control of the Little Rock School District to a local school board elected in November 2020. I put this together — it is not an official document from the state — but it represents where we are now with the state’s framework for LRSD after January 2020. At this meeting yesterday, the State Board also decertified the LREA (LRSD teachers union) and waived various state laws to ensure that LRSD teachers will not even be able to participate in the formation of their personnel policy committee as required under state law. This post is not about that issue, but not because that’s not important.
This post is about the text of the “Framework” for LRSD after January 2020 as it currently stands. We don’t know the exact language of the motion for return to local control until we see the minutes from yesterday’s meeting, or until the state releases an updated draft of the Framework. What we do know is that the motion dispensed with the previous three categories of LRSD schools and replaced that section of the Framework with some sort of return to local control by an elected school board subject to a memorandum of understanding with the state. What we also know is that the rest of the Framework adopted by the State Board on September 20 remains in place. From that, it is clear that no matter what new language appears in place of the previous three categories of LRSD schools in the state’s Framework for LRSD after January 2020, it will not and cannot be a true return to full local control. Here’s why:
Take a look at the first bullet point, which remains: “Continue Level 5—Intensive Support for the Little Rock School District.” This means that no matter what the Framework says about local control later in the Framework, the district remains in “academic distress” under Arkansas law with the state in control. Period. No matter how ADE drafts the language of the Pekron motion; no matter what it says. The Pekron motion is meaningless as long as this first bullet point remains in the Framework.
Take a look at the second bullet point, which also remains. The state will order the election of a “9-member local Board of Directors” in November 2020. The previous local board was seven members. Recent changes to state law now allow local school boards to have up to 9 members (with various specifications and requirements). Rest assured that the change from seven to nine is by design. It can only mean one of two things: (1) the two new positions will be at-large, ensuring the election of a majority of local board members financially supported by privatization/choice/charter interests; or (2) the zones will be redrawn into nine with the same goal in mind. The State Board and ADE have said nothing about why LRSD should now have a 9-member board instead of the previous 7-member board. This is the likely how and why of it, and this is unacceptable.
Keep reading the second bullet point, which remains in place despite the Pekron motion. “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[.]” No matter what the Pekron motion says, and no matter how many members are on the local board or how they are selected, this means the State Board reserves the right to limit the authority of the locally-elected school board however the state sees fit, including by requiring the local board to operate “under the direction and approval” of Johnny Key. In other words, the state and Johnny Key remain in full control no matter what the Pekron motion says, even after a locally-elected board is in place in 2021. The Pekron motion is meaningless as long as the second bullet point remains in the Framework.
Pekron’s motion sounded great yesterday. But he carefully and clearly said he intended his motion to replace the existing language in the Framework (adopted September 20) about dividing LRSD schools into three categories. That means the rest of the Framework remains in place. And as explained here, that means the state will not return LRSD to local control. Period. No matter what the Pekron motion says. The only thing that has changed is the state is no longer dividing LRSD schools into three categories under the Framework. Instead, the state and Johnny Key will remain in full control of the entire district—even after election of a local 9-member board in November 2020—and despite the Pekron motion yesterday, no matter what it says.
The state abandoned its first plan to segregate LRSD, which is a good thing. The segregation plan was, of course, a terrible idea, and the community outcry was heard. Thanks a million to the hundreds of community activists, teachers, parents, students, and citizens who made this happen. But the state has not relinquished control of LRSD, and has no intention to do so. The State Board attempted to deceive the media and the people into believing that there will be a return to local control when there absolutely will not be. Don’t believe it. Read the document for yourself and understand what it says. And prepare for a long war to regain control of our schools.