The Little Rock Education Association timed its one-day strike on Thursday to coincide with the State Board of Education’s monthly meeting, where once again the State Board had topics dealing with the Little Rock School District’s future on its agenda. At the end of the day, the State Board didn’t make any new decisions on the LRSD. The meeting ended after the audience began chanting “no taxation without representation!”
Earlier in the meeting, board member Chad Pekron said the draft memorandum of understanding the Arkansas Department of Education released after last month’s meeting wasn’t what he had in mind when he proposed an MOU between the state and the city of Little Rock to improve struggling schools. He said the locally elected board should have more power, though he did say he thought there should be “guardrails” in place to keep the board from recognizing the LREA as the teachers’ exclusive bargaining agent, the board from engaging in litigation or the board from firing the superintendent. Pekron did not make a motion on any of these items. Board member Sarah Moore suggested a work session or a series of work sessions to flesh out a plan.
The theme of the day, as seen at picket lines across the city and on Capitol grounds, was that teachers and community members are tired of the state’s mistreatment of the LRSD. Advocates are tired, but their commitment doesn’t seem to be waning.
From the public comment portion of Thursday’s meeting:
C.E. McAdoo, who was a member of the LRSD School Board that was disbanded in 2015 after the state took control of the LRSD, quoted Zora Neale Hurston: ” ‘If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoy it.’ We will not be silent,” he said. “We have been marginalized, but we will not be silent. We have been brokenhearted, but we will not be silent. You might ask who is the ‘we.’? The ‘we’ is not just the Little Rock School District. It’s everybody in the whole state. Every child and every teacher, every community is subject to what happened to us. Of course, what happened to us is you kept moving the goalposts.”
Saying, “God bless, you,” to his daughter-in-law Stacey McAdoo, who as the Arkansas Teacher of the Year has a nonvoting seat on the State Board and repeatedly got love from speakers, he told the rest of the board, he didn’t believe anything they said.
A Little Rock Central High School junior who said she was a member of the debate team said she was absent from school and speaking to the board against the wishes of her parents, who didn’t want her to get an unexcused absent. She chided the board for attacking teachers. “What you have failed to realize is that the teachers you are hurting taught us about … injustices and how to fix them,” she said.
Leron McAdoo, a Central High teacher, C.E. McAdoo’s son and Stacey McAdoo’s husband, delivered what he described as something of a poem, directed at Governor Hutchinson. He started with a long quote that began, “I never said I was a segregationist. There must be some time for tempers to cool.” It was from Gov. Orval Faubus, he revealed at the end, but he said it could’ve been delivered by Hutchinson.
“Governor, it’s on you, to be with truth,” he said. “But I want to appeal to you, Mr. Asa Hutchinson, the one thought to be the puppetmaster, the ringleader, the orchestrater, what do you want your legacy to be?”
He told Hutchinson to remember, “The government should be ‘We the people,’ not ‘We TELL the people.’ ”
He closed with a few lines from a song: “glooorrrryy, hallelujah…” — and elicited a smile from his wife and applause from the crowd.
Charles Zook, an LRSD substitute teacher and husband to a district teacher and step-son of board chair Diane Zook, cited former LRSD Supt. Baker Kurrus’ critique of the state’s approval of a dramatic expansion of charter schools in Little Rock. Education Secretary Johnny Key, who acts in place of an elected LRSD School Board, fired Kurrus after he criticized charter expansion. Zook called Kurrus a “moral man, and a thinking man.” By contrast, he said, “I feel like what’s in front of me are a bunch of people with an agenda. I feel like y’all know what you’re supposed to do, and I feel like you’re pretty clumsy often, and we see that.”
Kimberly Crutchfield, a Little Rock Central teacher, recalled the constituents Diane Zook has referred to who she says tell her the State Board is acting appropriately. You see all the people here and at schools today? she asked. “Where’s your people?”
Ali Noland, a district parent and leading LRSD advocate, said she opposed any restrictions on an elected board and called out Pekron, saying using euphemisms like “support” and “guardrails” is how we talk to children. Call them restrictions because that’s what they are, she said. “You’ve never given any explanation for why these restrictions will help test scores or help student growth,” she told the board.
Maxine Allen, a Methodist minister, upon identifying her self, said, “I know some of you probably don’t believe in lady preachers, just like you don’t believe in the union,” before reeling off dozens of benefits unions have given us: the weekend, social security, minimum wage, the eight-hour workday, child labor laws, the 40-hour work week, etc.
Jeff Wood, the chairman of the LRSD Community Advisory Board, said he was coming to the board as a parent and resident of Northwest Little Rock. He said West Little Rock needed a full high school. The LRSD has been closing schools in recent years and improved school facilities are desperately needed in the southwest part of the city, so his pitch elicited audible groans from many in the crowd.
Community activist Anika Whitfield told the board it was invited to a Dec. 6 “equity” bus trip of the Little Rock schools. “You failed to listen to us over and over again. That’s unacceptable. That’s why we will keep coming here,” she said. She also wondered why the board had decided to expand the LRSD school board to nine members and redraw election zones. “What’s wrong with the current zones we have?” she asked.
Sen. Will Bond (D-Little Rock) told the board, “You all are creating chaos and disruption for the kids you say you want to help, the families you say you want to help.” He said the draft MOU included the Community Advisory Board too often. He said there was a lot of community distrust of the CAB and the State Board. After five years of state control, if a school district doesn’t meet state-imposed exit criteria, the state has to either annex, consolidate or reconstitute the district. Only reconstitution is seen as a viable option, and education department lawyers have maintained that it’s not defined in statute. Bond contends it is and the state’s only options are to remove or replace the superintendent or school board. He told the State Board it was against the law to keep the CAB going. He said there needs to be a smooth transition to an elected board. “Y’all keep muddying the water,” he said.
Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock), who recently announced she’s running against U.S. Rep. French Hill to represent Arkansas in Congress, said, “There’s something different about the way y’all wanna treat Little Rock. I don’t know what it is. There’s something about Little Rock. … The law does not require you to maintain control of the district. It says, ‘you may,’ it does not say ‘you must.'” She warned the State Board, as it considers new election zones, not to “pack” zones with black voters to prevent the majority-minority district from again being represented by a majority-black school board.