Just like last month, another State Board of Education meeting dominated by discussions about the future of the Little Rock School District effectively ended with vocal protest from the audience and board chairwoman Diane Zook asking a Capitol police officer to intervene.
Just before the State Board was to consider voting on items related to the future of the LRSD, most of the audience began loudly chanting, “Not taxation without representation!” A Capitol police officer went to the front of the meeting room and motioned for the audience to leave. Few did. Instead, board members hurried away for about 10 minutes. When they returned, Zook said they would consider the LRSD issues at the board’s already scheduled meeting tomorrow and then adjourned the meeting.
Afterward, she told me that board members went to the bathroom and called family members during the time they were away from the meeting room. She said it did not hold an executive session. “I think that has to be announced,” she said. That’s true. She said tomorrow the board would take up LRSD issues first thing at 9 a.m. She said that would likely include whether the district’s personnel policy committee should have representatives from each school in the district and whether the LRSD Community Advisory Board should expand its membership from seven to nine and, if so, how that should take place. She also said, “The may or may not be motions.” That’s something LRSD watchers know well as several of the most consequential State Board decisions about the LRSD have been surprise motions.
After the meeting, Teresa Knapp Gordon, president of the Little Rock Education Association, said that the one-day strike called by the union had been a success. “It was awesome, inspiring. It was beautiful.” But she said there was more fight to come.
“I think it was the first battle in a long war. Obviously, they didn’t hear us. Obviously, they’re not paying attention. They have this paternalistic view that they know what’s best. Never mind the fact that they‘ve never worked in the LRSD. They don’t understand the dynamics of an urban school district. They don’t understand the needs of our students. They think they know best. It’s very disingenuous and disrespectful for our professionals who do know what’s best.”
What’s next for LRSD teachers?
“I don’t know yet. All options are on the table. I’ll talk to our members and see where they want to go next. We had a lot of students out today, a lot of educators out today. The last thing we want is an open-ended strike, where we have to be on the picket line and away from our students, but if that’s what it takes to stand up to our students, we’re going to do whatever is necessary.”
She encouraged LRSD supporters to write Governor Hutchinson, who she said is the “one pulling the strings.”
LRSD Supt. Mike Poore described the day as “far from perfect because you just don’t have enough kids.” More than 10,000 of the district’s 23,000 students were absent today. He said about 500 of the district’s almost 1,800 teachers called in sick and about 120 didn’t call or show up to work. Based on the average teacher salary, he said that would represent about $290 of lost salary. Additionally, about 100 classified staff called in sick and 20 were “no call, no show.”
He also confirmed reports I’d heard earlier in the day that three teachers had been placed on administrative leave pending the results of an investigation into whether they improperly used district communication platforms.
As to tomorrow, Poore said, “I haven’t heard one commitment one way or another, so we’re just trying to be prepared.” Around 5 p.m., he said he was about to have a team meeting to have a debrief on the day.