Little Rock teachers union planning one day strike; state and district prepared to step in

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 477 views 

A one day teachers’ strike in Little Rock is being planned for Thursday, but the district and state say they have enough substitutes to keep the schools open.

On Monday (Nov. 11), the Little Rock Education Association – the union that the state Board of Education did not renew as a negotiator for teachers and school employees – said its 1,800 members will strike on Thursday, Nov. 14 in an effort to return local control more quickly from the state to the Little Rock School District.

“As educators, we would rather be in our classrooms with our students – not on a picket line,” said LREA President Teresa Knapp Gordon.

“Governor Hutchinson and his appointed state Board of Education are determined to segregate our public schools. When they first tried it last month, this community joined with us, and, together, we blocked their plans. We must come together again to stand up for our students and our public schools,” she added.

The LREA, which has represented teachers and other school employees since 1950, said it plans for members to picket in front of their respective schools then go to Thursday’s state Board of Education meeting on the capitol campus.

The state education panel recently laid out a plan to allow for school board elections in November 2020 to return local control, but it also outlined controls for maintaining state oversight over failing schools. The board’s plan has been criticized by the LREA and vocal parents in the district as not providing for “full local control” after nearly five years of state oversight.

In addition to the longer-term transition plan, the board made a separate motion at its October meeting to not renew a contract that expired Oct. 31 with the teachers’ group for collective bargaining. It said it would work with a personnel policy committee, which has yet to be created.

On Thursday’s agenda, the state Board of Education will consider the reconstitution of the Little Rock School District, attendance zones, school board zones, and a memorandum of understanding between the state and district that includes assistance from the city of Little Rock.

Knapp Gordon said her group wants a more immediate return to full local control for the district.

“What we would like to see out of the state board meeting is a motion to return full local control to the Little Rock School District immediately with a board that has full decision-making authority,” she said.

Arkansas Education Secretary Johnny Key, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and Little Rock Superintendent Michael Poore emphasized that they are prepared to deal with a teacher walkout.

“I want to reassure students and parents that the district is prepared for Thursday’s work stoppage,” Key said. “More than enough substitutes, Little Rock School District staff, and ADE staff have passed background checks and are prepared to step in to ensure students receive a quality education. Every school in the district will remain open, buses will run, lunch will be served, and a safe learning environment will be provided. At the end of the day, the students in the Little Rock School District deserve a proper education, and we will be ready to ensure that occurs.”

“I am deeply disappointed with the Little Rock Education Association’s announcement today about Thursday’s strike. The decision to strike, even for just one day, sends the wrong message to Little Rock School District students, the community, and the state of Arkansas. LREA leadership refuses to acknowledge that everything they are asking for may be obtained when the district is no longer in need of Level 5 support. When the need for Level 5 support no longer exists, the local board that will be elected in November 2020 will have full authority to consider their demands,” Key said.

Level 5 support refers to schools that are in the highest level of academic distress. Eight Little Rock schools are in the Level 5 category.

Hutchinson said he was also disappointed with the teachers’ proposed strike.

“I have said many times, teachers are the critical element for good education inside the classroom. The LRSD has so many great teachers and it is our desire to have them in the classroom, not at home or picketing,” he said. “We all desire local control and next year’s school board election is a major step approved by the state Board of Education.”

Poore told reporters he’s uncertain how the teacher absences may be classified or if they would be terminated.

“If they [teachers] call in sick and then show up on a picket line, that’s obviously a problem that we would have to deal with,” he said.

He also said that the district is prepared to pay for the substitutes’ salaries. Poore said that lesson plans have already been prepared and it will be business as usual for students.

“Even if there is staff that is not there that day, we will have lesson plans that were developed by our teachers to utilize and we’re going to try and make it as normal of a day as possible,” he said.

In a letter to parents of students in the district, Poore warned that students should not miss school due to the teacher strike action.

“We believe having students in school is the best place for them. If we were to close schools, we would have to extend the school year. Additionally, we are required to take attendance each day, so parents must continue to report absences. This year, we have made significant strides to take learning to the next level for our students, and want to continue to build on those successes together… Again, we have no plans to close schools.”

Editor’s note: KATV’s Marine Glisovic and Talk Business & Politics Roby Brock contributed to this report.