Monday, May 4, 2015

UPDATE: State Board of Education to hold special meeting concerning LRSD waiver

Posted By on Mon, May 4, 2015 at 7:36 PM

BAKER KURRUS: Might he be tapped as the next LRSD superintendent?
  • BAKER KURRUS: Might he be tapped as the next LRSD superintendent?

UPDATE, 5/5/2015: The Democrat-Gazette's Cynthia Howell wrote in this morning's paper that Kurrus is indeed the subject of today's meeting. Members of the state board confirmed to the D-G that they were emailed a copy of Kurrus' resume along with notification of the special meeting on Monday.

Howell is, of course, limited in her ability to speculate. She writes that waiver action would "enable Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key to promote Kurrus to a more formal role — possibly as a chief administrator," but it's fairly clear at this point that the "formal role" in question would be superintendent or an equivalent role.

This would echo the appointment of Key himself to his position atop the Education Department earlier this year. Although Key, a former state senator, had years of experience in the realm of Arkansas education policy, he lacked the qualifications required under state law to serve as Education Commissioner, including a master's degree and direct teaching experience. So, the legislature merely changed requirements set forth by statute.

Part of the rationale behind the bill paving the way for Key's appointment was a specification that the ADE deputy commissioner — the number two person in the department — had to possess the credentials and teaching experience originally required of the top post. Might something similar be in the works for the LRSD waiver? Perhaps Key envisions Kurrus running the district, but with the close backing of a more traditionally qualified educational administrator as his lieutenant.

Something's up. This afternoon, the State Board of Education announced a special meeting at 2 p.m. tomorrow (Tuesday, May 5). The lone agenda item concerns a recommendation from the Education Department that the board "waive the application of certain Arkansas laws and corresponding State Board of Education rules regarding the administration of the Little Rock School District."

There's no specific mention of the topic on the agenda, but it seems likely that the meeting concerns leadership of the LRSD. In the wake of the resignation of Dexter Suggs two weeks ago, the question of who will be the next superintendent is the most pressing issue facing the district.

If tomorrow's meeting is indeed about leadership of the LRSD, the waiver request would indicate Education Commissioner Johnny Key is considering an unconventional choice to be the superintendent. Why? Because the appointment of a superintendent would normally be under Key's authority alone. But, if he needs to obtain a waiver of law from the state board to appoint someone to head the district, that must mean it's someone who normally would be excluded under existing statutory requirements.

One name that's emerged repeatedly in recent speculation is Baker Kurrus, the former LRSD school board president who's been tapped to head a budget advisory committee looking at district finances.

Kurrus has worked with the LRSD leadership for years, but he's not conventionally qualified to head a school district. He's not formally trained as an educational administrator. Other names that have come up in speculation wouldn't require such a waiver — Jerry Guess of the Pulaski County Special School District, Jim Rollins of Springdale or even Interim Superintendent Marvin Burton (a longtime deputy administrator in the LRSD hierarchy who was appointed to the head spot after Suggs departed). If Kurrus is the choice, though, Key would have to seek state board permission first.

Arkansas law allows the Education Commissioner great potential latitude in running state-controlled districts, including the waiver of almost all laws pertaining to school districts that have been seized by the state. (The significant exception is the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act, which cannot be waived.) However, the state board ultimately has decision-making authority over whether to grant those waivers.

Whatever is happening at tomorrow's meeting, it evidently concerns a change brewing in the LRSD that would require a waiver of state law. We'll see.

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