The agenda has been posted for the next state Board of Education meeting Nov. 14 and it includes several potentially incendiary items about governance of the Little Rock School District. The district is now and likely for the forseeable future under state control because of test-score shortcomings in a handful of the district’s schools serving impoverished, minority populations.
The state Board has agreed to a school board election in November 2020 (for a board with severely restricted powers) and the state Board agenda Nov. 14 includes an election timeline.
It envisions giving to the appointed Community Advisory Board, a puppet group controlled by the Hutchinson administration, the power to make recommendations to Education Czar Johnny Key on the shape of nine school board zones (up from the previous seven thanks to a Republican-sponsored change in state law in 2019). A map is to be submitted to the County Election Commission by March. Candidate filing would be from July 27-Aug. 3 for a Nov. 3 election (same date as the general election in a presidential year.)
The agenda also includes a plan to expand the existing community advisory board by two at-large (not ward) representatives recommended by the city of Little Rock, but subject to Czar Key’s approval and that of the state Board of Education. I’d guess that members of the Little Rock Education Association need not apply for either of these seats.
The board will consider a memorandum of understanding on school operation that Mayor Frank Scott Jr., grassroots groups, the LREA and many others have repudiated. It is a disingenuous document that continues perpetual state control over the district. It prohibits local input in superintendent hiring, employee relationships and hiring of personnel in critical schools. Beyond that, it clearly enunciates the state’s ability to control every decision in the district should it choose to do so.
The puppet advisory board is supposed to make suggestions on school board zone boundaries, but they’ll likely be influenced by draft maps submitted for this meeting. They are shown at top, the differences apparently being population variance in the two proposals. My call for clarification has not so far been returned.
UPDATE: An election timeline explains that the Department favors the top option, tailored to existing election precincts, over the option that tries to have the smallest population variances. Note that adoption of either of these maps guarantees zones out of sync with population changes because they are based on the 2010 Census.
The proposals list populations of each zone, but not racial makeup. Given the city’s generally segregated housing patterns, most zones are readily identifiable as solidly white or solidly minority, with some swing potential in a few districts on the two maps. For example, the low-variance map combines Hillcrest, which is majority white, with heavily black midtown populations south of I-630 to I-30.
CORRECTION: I wrote originally that this map reflected elementary attendance zones. In fact, it represents an option for drawing school board zones based on location of elementary schools and their attendance zones. It is shown here.
Finally, the agenda includes “Consideration and discussion of LRSD attendance zones, reconfigurations, and reconstitution.” No details are provided. This could be an explosive topic because it could include high school attendance zones and proposals to change the focus of some existing schools, such as Hall High, closure of some schools and perhaps discussion of expansion of a new middle school in high-income Northwest Little Rock into all high school grades, an agenda item for a Walton Family Foundation-financed lobby.
If past board actions are an indication, a lack of advance warning will not deter the board from acting on the wishes of Key, Hutchinson and influencers in the school “reform” movement powered by Walton Family Foundation money.
A state Department of Education department news release continues to provide inaccurate descriptions of what’s afoot. The words “propaganda” or “lie” also come to mind. For example, from the release:
The framework was amended on October 10, 2019, to clarify that there will be a full return of a unified district to local control.
It is not full as long as the state holds the hammer. It is not unified because the plan segregates some schools for special treatment. It is not local control when the school board’s powers are limited by the state at the outset and further subject to individual veto.
Expect good faith from Asa’s Education Department? Don’t on the strength of this kind of misrepresentation.
UPDATE: Monday, Nov. 4, I got a response to questions I’d posed earlier.
How were the maps drawn?
Three zone maps were developed based on the data available to the Arkansas GIS office with the goal of creating nine zones that are substantially equal in population. Further information is available on the 11/14/19 State Board agenda: https://v3.boardbook.org/Publi
c/PublicAgenda.aspx?ak=1001636 &mk=50350939. The “Precinct Strategy” and “Elementary Attendance” maps were an attempt to align the zones with existing boundaries, but were still a function of raw total block population.
Has the education department compiled racial percentages in those zones?
That information has not yet been compiled but will be prior to a final zone map being approved. The zones, as shown in the released maps, were derived from total population per block from the 2010 Census. Racial percentages were not taken into consideration at this stage.
Can you explain the labeling of districts on the maps?
The letters assigned to each zone were completely random and have no meaning other than to identify a zone.