Waiver consideration for the LRSD on State Board of Ed agenda sparks concern from LRSD advocates | Arkansas Blog

Friday, December 7, 2018

Waiver consideration for the LRSD on State Board of Ed agenda sparks concern from LRSD advocates

Posted By on Fri, Dec 7, 2018 at 5:53 PM

click to enlarge JOHNNY KEY - BRIAN CHILSON
  • BRIAN CHILSON
  • JOHNNY KEY

There's a vague, but ominous item at the end of the State Board of Education's agenda for its Thursday, Dec. 13 meeting:

Consideration of Waiver of education-related laws in the Little Rock School District

In July of 2017, the State Board classified the Little Rock School District as in Need of Level 5 Intensive Support pursuant to the Arkansas Educational Support and Accountability Act (AESAA). Under Ark. Code Ann. § 6-15-2916, if a school district receives this classification, the State Board may take various actions including waiving education-related laws.

The item has sparked worry among Little Rock School District advocates because it's unusual for agenda items not to include more specific information. A good deal of the earlier portion of the agenda includes specific requests for waivers, including one from the LRSD to adjust the start date for school. (There's an identical agenda item concerning the Pine Bluff School District, which the state took over in September, immediately preceding the Little Rock item.)

There's concern from advocates that Education Commissioner Johnny Key, who acts as the school board for the LRSD, while the district is under state control, will push to eliminate the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act across the district. The fair dismissal law provides some due process protections for all Arkansas public school teachers.

In October, Key rejected a new contract between the district and the Little Rock Education Association, which was negotiating on behalf of teachers. Key said he wouldn't agree to a new professional negotiated agreement unless the LREA agreed to allow for the waiver of the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act in the 22 schools in the LRSD that received a "D" or "F" grade under the state's new accountability system, which is based largely on standardized testing. Key said the district needed "greater flexibility" to fire teachers at the so-called "D" and "F" schools. But when pressed, he could not provide examples of the LRSD being unable to fire teachers because of the fair dismissal law.

Weeks of townhall meetings, informational picketing by teachers and their supporters and talk of a strike followed, but on Nov. 13, Key and the teachers' union came to a new contract agreement. It acknowledged that the LRSD could seek waivers from the State Board, including eliminating the fair dismissal law, but added some due process protections that would go into effect if Key moved to eliminate the fair dismissal law.

That the agenda item refers to considering waivers of education-related laws (plural) adds to the concern that Key, who is considered to be in league with Walter Hussman, the Waltons and other charter advocates, might have bigger waiver ambitions. The state took over the LRSD in 2015, ostensibly because of the low academic performance of six of its 48 schools. By law, a district can only be under state control for five years; after that period the State Board must return it to local control or move to "annex, consolidate, or reconstitute" the district.

That the item comes at the end of the agenda means it'll be discussed sometime after lunch, likely after school is out. I suspect there will be some parents and teachers in attendance.

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