The most important work at Thursday’s meeting of the Little Rock School District’s board took place in executive session. Superintendent Jermall Wright spoke with the board about the district personnel that will be cut as a part of his plan to reduce the LRSD’s budget by $13 million dollars.
The cuts to downtown office positions will impact 25 positions, according to a district document from last month. Seventeen positions will be eliminated, seven will be repurposed and see a reduction in contract hours, and one new position will be created. There are 441 district level positions, and the elimination of 17 positions amounts to 4% of all district employees.
The employees affected will be notified of the changes in February. Because this is a personnel issue, no discussions were held in public at the Thursday meeting.
For those of us who have wanted to see reductions in the LRSD’s top-heavy administration, this is good news. I am saddened that anyone has to lose a job, but this is why we advocated for Superintendent Wright. He promised to make big changes that would help the kids whom this city and district have historically forgotten.
The board spent about an hour in executive session Thursday and made no decisions, but there are big changes coming to the Little Rock School District. The district is not in financial distress, but because of decreasing student enrollment, the administration soon will have to make hard choices about reducing expenditures.
On the board’s consent agenda was a report by chief financial officer Kelsey Bailey. Wright announced last year that the district needed to save at least $16 million dollars, and Mr. Bailey has been going over the budget to see where we can make cuts. He identified $13 million in cuts last month and another $3 million dollars of unexpected tax revenue. Combined, this will allow our district to stay financially sound.
Bailey announced Thursday that tax revenue for the current school year is $1,543,374 above what was expected. The operating fund balance is currently at $63,778, which is very healthy. This number fluctuates, but keeping it high is the goal to protect us against any financial emergencies. The capital improvements fund balance has dipped to $80,633,064. This is our fund for improving our older buildings and building new ones. We will soon have to sell the remaining $100 million dollars in bonds that the voters approved a few years ago in a millage election.
The administration also asked the board to send the 2024-25 school calendar back to the personnel policy committees to make changes to the calendar and to consider applying for a waiver from the state so they can provide other options for inclement weather make-up days. We will hear more on this in the coming weeks.
The board also heard public comments, including from a speaker concerned with issues at Carver Elementary. She said Carver families and staff were “thrown off guard” when their new principal was appointed to lead Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary school and at the same time finish off this year at Carver. During the same week, she said, their after-school program was cut with only a week’s notice, leaving parents scrambling to arrange childcare.
“This type of change would never have happened in certain zones without notifying families first,” she said. Carver is “constantly being thrust into spaces without a clear vision, funding and support,” she said, and called on the board to make sure their school has the money and support to help kids succeed.
She’s not wrong. Inequality is rampant in this city. Hopefully, our board will focus on such concerns.
In other district news, an exciting meeting happened Tuesday night at Little Rock’s Southwest High School. The meeting was called by a group of high school students who invited members of the Little Rock school board and administration to come and answer questions. Wright attended, as did several members of the board.
The kids were spectacular and asked very pointed and hard-hitting questions. You can tell they love their school and are willing to fight for it. New Southwest High School principal George Maxey — who was a controversial hire — gave most of the responses.
Maxey was asked directly what he would do to restore order to the school. Maxey said that his philosophy is to “protect our house.” First and foremost, he said, people need to be on time every day. He said everyone must follow directions and do their best every day. He did not address specific issues that have plagued the school, but he does have a vision for creating a new culture in the building.
The next question was about stability at Southwest Little Rock high school, which has seen a lot of leadership turnover. Maxey said he is here to stay and promised he would be at almost every school activity. He wants to identify faculty and staff who want to be on campus and find ways to retain those staff. Maxey said he will be having more consistent meetings with staff and faculty to hear their concerns.
Maxey was asked how the school will reach 95% attendance on testing. Kids will be ushered to class on time, he said, and the halls will be cleared. The school will use social workers to find out why kids are not in school and will work to incentivize attendance.
Board member Vicki Hatter said personnel issues need to be addressed before the school can really grow. There needs to be greater oversight and accountability, she said. School board president Mike Mason and others said the board is rooting for Maxey.
Superintendent Wright ended the night by saying he has complete faith in Maxey and he knows the issues facing Southwest. He argued that unless we are meeting the needs of every kid in this school, then we are wasting our time. Wright said he believes this is a turning point for Southwest High School.
It was a good community forum. I hope we will see more of these going forward. Our administration has historically sat in their offices and not had enough contact with the public. Hopefully, this is changing.