The Little Rock School District Community Advisory Board, an unelected board with no real power, made recommendations Thursday to Education Secretary Johnny Key on the composition of a Personnel Policy Committee, an advisory body made up of teachers and administrators that will also have no real power.
The State Board of Education last week directed Key to stop recognizing the Little Rock Education Association as the exclusive collective bargaining agent for LRSD teachers, a role it’s had since 1966. The LREA has a negotiated contract with the district that covers salaries, benefits and employment policies. It expires Oct. 31. The State Board also directed Key to require the election of a PPC and to waive a law that requires that the election be conducted exclusively by teachers. Instead, the LRSD will hire the American Arbitration Association to conduct the election.
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That there was discussion at all tonight when Key and the state control every aspect of the process had a “Through the Looking Glass” quality. Once created, the PPC will suggest policies to the Little Rock School District School Board, which for at least another year, as the state’s time in control of the LRSD stretches past five years, will continue to be Key.
The Little Rock Community Advisory Board, meeting again with a bare quorum with only four of seven members present, suggested to LRSD Superintendent Michael Poore that he recommend to Key that the PPC include a teacher from every school. There was also discussion from the Community Advisory Board on surveying teachers to gather their thoughts on the composition of the PPC. The district has already outlined a quick timeline for the elections.
Kimberly Crutchfield, a Central High school teacher, asked, “So if you did a survey and 70 percent of teachers said we don’t want a PPC, we want our LREA, would you all recommend that? You all can be the voice of reason. You can recommend that they reinstate the LREA.”
The LREA has said that it represents over 70 percent of LRSD teachers.
Crutchfield also complained about bringing in a consultant to manage the elections.
“We can get paper ballots, put them in a box and we all count them,” she said. “We need to have a teacher group to verify the results. Right now, we don’t trust y’all. We don’t trust them.”
Ali Noland, an LRSD parent and advocate, asked the board to defer making significant decisions.
“I would request that every action item, from here until a locally elected board is in place, is evaluated as to whether it’s urgent and whether or not you have to act on it or whether it’s something that could be left to a locally elected board,” she said.
Chairman Jeff Wood, who has been associated with the education reformers who have pushed to cripple the teachers union and expand so-called school choice, brought up a frequent critique of the LRSD and the LREA: That the district’s starting teacher salary sits outside the top 50 starting salaries among school districts statewide.
Human Resouces director Robert Robinson told the board that, while the LRSD’s starting teacher salary lags behind many other districts, its contribution to health insurance is greater than most or possibly all other districts. The LRSD is also in the top 10 when it comes to “top out” salary, the highest level salary a teacher can receive after step raises for 20 years of teaching.
Meanwhile, while the Community Advisory Board met, former LRSD School Board members Jim Ross, Joy Springer and C.E. McAdoo, who were removed by the State Board of Education when it voted to take over the district in 2015, held their own meeting with teachers and advocates outside the steps of LRSD headquarters.