KEY: With State Board of Ed Chairwoman Diane Zook. Brian Chilson

The Arkansas Department of Education has released a draft plan of a memorandum of understanding on the future of the Little Rock School District between the department, the LRSD and the city of Little Rock.

It’s unlikely to quiet critics of the state’s treatment of the LRSD. It stipulates that while under Level 5 intensive support (the accountability designation that succeeded academic distress), the LRSD School Board that’s slated to be elected in November 2020 won’t be able to resume recognition with the Little Rock Education Association and the board won’t be able to fire the superintendent.

As I’ve reported elsewhere, according to state law and education department rules, the LRSD will remain under Level 5 until it meets exit criteria, which is also set by the education department. While the district is under Level 5, the State Board of Education and Education Secretary Johnny Key can insert themselves into district policymaking or employment decisions in just about any way they want. They control the whole process and could continue to indefinitely.

The draft MOU also outlines a plan for creating community schools and says the schools will be selected by the education department, LRSD and the city. Each school will overseen by a Community School Partnership Alliance that, according to the draft, will be made up of “community members, school staff and parents” and will include one representative from the Community Advisory Board (or school board after November 2020), the city and the education department. The draft MOU gives the CSPA authority to make significant decisions on how a community school will be run, subject to approval by the Community Advisory Board, with the right to appeal to Key.

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UPDATE: The draft document also says the LRSD and the state will work together to develop a budget for the district while it remains under Level 5. Then there’s this line: “The budget will be approved by the LRSD Local Board, with a right of appeal to the Commissioner if there are disputes.” Disputes among whom? If there’s a dissenting vote among the school board? If Key doesn’t like a board alteration of the budget?

The draft MOU says that Community School Partnership Alliances will work to decide how success should be measured in each school in addition to the state’s take on the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. But later it lists a number of factors that “may” be considered in measuring school success:

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*Student enrollment
*Workforce stability
*Teacher attendance
*Student Attendance
*NWEA – Map for Growth data
*Qualitative analysis and evaluation of the community school mode

There’s an undercurrent of disregard for Little Rock teachers throughout the draft, a suggestion that “bad or neglectful teachers” are the reasons that poor kids don’t score well on a standardized test. There’s a nod toward merit pay in the community schools section and a line that community schools will “receive priority staffing.” Teacher attendance above hints at a favorite topic of so-called education reformers like Walton lobbyist Gary Newton. The suggestion being that teachers who are absent for personal or sick days are hurting kids. As if teachers are not regular people who get sick and have to care for sick family or go to the doctor or participate in professional development.

The MOU mentions “support from Little Rock,” but doesn’t include anything about financial assistance from the state.

Key, in releasing the draft, said it’s likely to change as stakeholders have more input. He provides an email for community feedback.

Mayor Frank Scott said it’s far from final. “There will be multiple changes and a robust community engagement effort,” he said.

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He later released a statement, where he sought to back away from everything in the MOU aside from the community school section, which he said didn’t reflect the city’s vision because it hadn’t heard from the community yet:

Today, the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) released a working draft Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on returning local control to the Little Rock School District (LRSD). The City of Little Rock is only party to an agreement to create a Community Schools Model (CSM) for LRSD’s most challenged schools. The working draft MOU released today does not include the City of Little Rock’s plans for CSM because, as we’ve previously stated, we are interested in hearing from the community about needed wrap-around services at low-performing schools. As community forums are planned we will announce how the public can attend and participate.

“The City of Little Rock will continue its meetings with the ADE and LRSD to discuss the next steps for development of a CSM. Those next steps are: creation of a student needs assessment; plans for community engagement meetings to hear from parents and residents about student needs outside of the classroom (as mentioned above); and data analysis in neighborhoods where struggling schools exist. I look forward to our future discussions to make the necessary improvements so we can establish a world class education system in our city.”

From the news release from the education department:

In fulfilling the unanimous vote of the State Board on October 10, 2019, the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education today released a draft memorandum of understanding outlining critical steps of the process for full return of a unified Little Rock School District to local control.

The ultimate goal of this document is to provide certainty for the district and the community with regard to the election of a new school board, the stability of the district until the new board is in place, and the state’s commitment to working with LRSD, the city of Little Rock, and other stakeholders to develop community schools that are responsive to the needs of all students and will produce higher levels of academic performance.

This draft will serve as a starting point for the State Board’s ongoing discussion of the next steps for releasing the Little Rock School District to local control. It is very likely that the document will change as the State Board members and the Mayor’s Office have an opportunity to review the proposal, discuss the proposed ideas, and consider public input. The draft memorandum of understanding can be found here: https://bit.ly/2Wq94RE. Members of the public who wish to comment about the proposal can do so by sending an email to ade.lrsdfeedback@arkansas.gov.