Monday, April 13, 2015

LREA president: State set to move on two LR schools; parents and staff to learn through newspaper

Posted By on Mon, Apr 13, 2015 at 7:26 PM

Cathy Koehler, president of the Little Rock Education Association, tells me she's been informed by a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette of major changes to be announced tomorrow afternoon at two Little Rock School District schools.

By Koehler's brief account to me:

Baseline Elementary, one of the six schools in academic distress, is to be converted into a school focusing on early literacy, or something similar. The entire staff will be removed and placed into a pool of unassigned teachers. The existing student body will be allowed to remain.

Rockefeller Elementary is to be converted into solely an early childhood education center. I'm unclear what all is in store for staff, but clearly some changes will be needed.

To put Koehler mildly: This is not right..

School staffs and parents shouldn't learn first through a newspaper that their school worlds have been turned upside down, and at a late point in the year they must make plans for the next.

I've made an FOI request for the plans. I expect the same response I've gotten to all my FOI requests in the last week and all those that former School Board member Jim Ross has made: nothing.

The Democrat-Gazette has fine school reporters and I'm sure they'll do a fine job of reporting the facts — as fed to them by school authorities. But I also think Interim Superintendent Dexter Suggs and Johnny Key, the untrained and inexperienced new Education Commissioner, also know the story cannot, by journalistic convention, include the kind of commentary this unannounced move merits. They also know the newspaper editorially can be expected to support them. Billionaire Boys Club member in good standing, publisher Walter Hussman, will take care of that.

Koehler has been told the changes aren't final until the hand-picked district citizens advisory committee gets to review it all after the fact. These are not elected people. They bear no resemblance in makeup to those once elected to run this district. Also, when they organized, Suggs made a point of emphasizing their powerlessness. Now they will be used as window dressing for his decision-making. Check that: The state's decision-making.

Anyone with more information is welcome to pitch in.

My last note to Dexter Suggs requested any e-mail, notes, memos or other items related to principal assignment in the district. I was told there were no documents responsive to my request. I now think more than ever that his responses have not been truthful. A principal change is to be announced tomorrow — sufficiently detailed that the daily newspaper has the story  — and there's no piece of paper reflecting it? Incredible.

The insults to the Little Rock School District by the state of Arkansas continue. Suggs has demonstrated a continued lack of respect for rules and contracts, not to mention compassionate treatment of teachers and parents. I don't believe for a minute these latest moves were done without the express approval, if not instigation, of Johnny Key and Deborah Coffman, his hand-picked deputy to run the Little Rock School District.

To deliver parents a done deal through the newspaper is not my idea of a "holistic" operation of the sort Key described in running down the school district last week. It is top-down, authoritarian administration. It is much favored by the Republican majority, the man the governor has installed to carry out his agenda at the Education Department and the Waltons, who are funding the assault on the Little Rock School District and, not incidentally, its teachers union.

Bad as this is, think for a minute how bad it would have been had Asa Hutchinson and the Waltons gotten their way and passed the bill that would have allowed instant privatizing of the entire school district and instant cancellation of the teachers' contract. Multiply tomorrow's news  by 24.

Word to the rest of the state: Hate on Little Rock schools if you must, but …. THIS COULD HAPPEN TO YOU.

PS — The Little Rock School District spits on the Freedom of Information Act. Teresa Gordon, the vice president of the LREA who's been targeted for a Suggs witch hunt over a summer computer camp she's operated for kids (with her principal's approval) has tried to get copies of her own personnel files. The school district has refused, claiming they are exempt because they are part of an "ongoing investigation." As the law makes clear, that exemption doesn't apply to employees' own records. She's retained a lawyer and a good one, Matt Campbell.

Really, Johnny Key. Is having a complicit stooge under your thumb at Little Rock important enough to disregard his abusive treatment of the public and employees?

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