Little Rock mayor, city board add proposals to state’s LRSD plan

by Roby Brock (roby@talkbusiness.net) 147 views 

Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. outlined a proposal aimed at bringing city, state and education leaders together to return local control of the Little Rock School District (LRSD) and joint collaboration with the city and state to improve failing schools at a Monday (Oct. 7) press conference.

Scott was joined by all but two of the city’s board of directors.

“Little Rock’s children are our most precious assets. We must ensure that we are unified in creating a clear path to help every child in every school in every neighborhood succeed,” Scott said. “Today’s actions, including the support of members of the City of Little Rock Board of Directors, affirms Little Rock’s position will do what it takes so that our students receive a world-class education.”

Mayor Scott has asked the State Board of Education to take up the following proposals and pass them at its Oct. 10 meeting:

· Full and complete local control of all LRSD schools;
· A temporary, transition school board from January 2020 until a locally elected school board is seated, with elections taking place in the November 2020 general election;
· A “Transition Board” comprised of local community appointments and State Board appointments; and
· Schools in the “F” category operated by the LRSD under a memorandum of understanding with the Arkansas Department of Education and the City of Little Rock.

The aforementioned schools would be known as “community schools,” where wrap-around services aimed at both students and their families would address systemic poverty that grips certain Little Rock neighborhoods.

In addition, the city will hire a Chief Education Officer (CEdO) by Jan. 1, 2020 to coordinate the major undertaking of connecting city, LRSD, and state involvement regarding education, equity, and support for children and families.

STATE INVOLVEMENT
The state of Arkansas, through the Board of Education, took control of the Little Rock School District in January 2015 after six schools were flagged as “failing” and in academic distress.

The state is only allowed five years to oversee a failing school district. At the end of that period if the district has not improved satisfactorily, it must permanently consolidate, annex or reconstitute.

Last month, the State Board of Education unanimously approved a plan to return partial control of the district back to a local school board in 2020. Under the plan, the state would continue to oversee schools categorized as “Level 5,” which would require intensive support due to their continued academic distress.

A nine-person board of directors would be elected in November 2020. That board would have local control over decisions; however, the state board would limit its authority or operate under the direction of the Commissioner of Education. Details of that limited authority were not provided at Friday’s meeting.

The plan would also establish three categories of schools. Category 1 would be schools with a “D” or better grade, which would operate under the new local board’s control.

Category 2 schools would include schools “undergoing reconfigurations.” They could operate under local school board supervision, but the state board would determine which schools qualify. Currently, several schools are consolidating and being realigned for efficiencies and to improve facilities.

Category 3 schools would be those with an “F” grade. These schools would operate under different leadership, undefined at this point, but in partnership with the district. Several observers at the board meeting expressed concerns that this distinction would lead to a geographic divide in the school district that would exacerbate racial and socio-economic disparities.

The state’s plan has been criticized by local education leaders. The State Board of Education will meet Thursday and Friday of this week to move forward with its proposal. It is also expected to take up another controversial proposal to revoke the negotiating authority of the Little Rock teachers’ union, the Little Rock Education Association.

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