The Arkansas Democratic Party issued a statement today criticizing the state Board of Education’s continuing micromanagement of the Little Rock School District. The Little Rock Education Association also has chimed in.
A political issue? I think you can say so. The Board and the Education Department are led by Gov. Asa Hutchinson‘s people, with particular influence from his former education liaison, Board member Sarah Moore, and a Little Rock School District tie on the side of actions yesterday in his current education liaison. His current liasion, Allison Roberts, is married to the principal of Hall High and now he’s empowered to make a wholesale staff change next year.
Moreover — and this is the important thing — this treatment can happen to any other school district, though the record shows that those in Democratic strongholds with large concentrations of poor, black voters are more at risk., This will remain so as long as Arkansas remains a holdout along with a minority of states to the false god of boiling education achievement down to a single letter grade, when it measures demographic factors, particularly poverty, more than school performance.
The Party statement:
The state Board of Education pursued unilateral action on Thursday to make changes to the Little Rock School District that even its own state-appointed Superintendent opposed. Among the actions taken by the appointed state Board – despite a lack of buy-in from parents, teachers, and the community – was the wholesale dismissal of the entire teaching staff at Hall High School. The appointed state Board’s decision-making process, which has resulted in taking away local control from parents and schools, is a troubling development for families and educators across Arkansas.
“Students succeed when communities come together. We have seen an impressive groundswell of community involvement and engagement around the future success of LRSD. It’s disappointing to see the state Board of Education operating in a manner that further damages a population of teachers and students who have less resources and clear socioeconomic disadvantages. Students and teachers of LRSD deserve better,” said Chairman Michael John Gray. “We expect more of our elected leaders and those they appoint. This pattern of behavior will have repercussions that will negatively affect every school district in the state.”
To recapitulate: The state Board renamed a school, fired the staff at Hall High School, overrode the superintendent and instructed him to hire another principal for a small high school, expanded the school board from seven to nine members while delaying an election until six years after state takeover despite a five-year limit, prohibited the board from choosing its superintendent, prohibited the board from negotiating with a union, prohibited the board from filing lawsuits and reaffirmed the state board’s power to do whatever it wanted in the district as long as it was deemed a Level 5 district in academic stature. The state has not yet defined the criteria for being a Level 5 district or how to get out of it, beyond board whim.
UPDATE: The Little Rock Education Association, barred from negotiating with the school district by the state Board, also issued a statement today.
Yesterday the Arkansas State Board of Education illustrated clearly that it does not understand its role.
The State Board’s own website states, “The board, which meets on the second Thursday and Friday of each month, is the policy-making body for public elementary and secondary education in Arkansas.” The Board Members engaged in micro-management of the Little Rock School District (LRSD) and its schools in such a way that is far beyond policy-making. In fact, because they have vested the authority of the LRSD School Board in Secretary Key, they violated their own governing laws by making decisions that continue to traumatize the students and staff of the LRSD.
The LREA believes that LRSD Board Policy and State Law designate employees of Hall High School, Fair High School, McClellan High School, Rockefeller Elementary and Washington Elementary as employees of the LRSD, not of their individual schools. All employees are hired as district employees and then assigned to positions within the district at specific sites.
The LREA continues to stand in solidarity with our community, parents, students, and members to defend the LRSD against the continued injustice that is state control. The deadline for state control to end is January 28, 2020. Plans should have been implemented prior to now if the real intent is to return the district to local control. The actions yesterday demonstrate clearly that the State Board either has
no intention of returning the district to local control, or it does not understand what local control means. The LREA maintains that a democratically elected school board with full decision-making authority is the best way to ensure that all students receive the best possible public education and that their needs and interests are well served. #OneLRSD supports a democratically elected school board with full decision-making authority as soon as possible.
The following statement can be attributed to Teresa Knapp Gordon, a veteran educator with more than 22 years of experience, a National Board Certified Teacher, and President of the Little Rock Education Association (LREA):
“LREA supports all of our educators and will stand in support with every one of our educators as we navigate this challenging situation. We will work diligently to ensure that the law and the policies of the LRSD are adhered to going forward, and will take any action necessary to ensure that our students are protected against additional trauma and that our educators are valued and respected.”
“LREA stands with the community, parents, and students in supporting a full return to local control through an elected school board with full decision-making authority as soon as possible. We have demonstrated support and involvement continuously, and people who do not know or understand our community and its needs should not be making decisions for our children and our schools, especially decisions that have the potential to lead to the resegregation of the LRSD.”