AP NEWS

Arkansas board waives employee protections for 2 districts

December 21, 2018

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Board of Education voted Thursday to waive employee protections for two school districts under state control, despite complaints from teachers and community leaders that the move would make it difficult to recruit and retain educators at those schools.

The state board voted 8-1 to waive the Teacher Fair Dismissal and Public School Employee Fair Hearing acts for the Pine Bluff district for the 2019-20 school year. The board also voted 6-3 to waive the laws for the Little Rock school district now through the 2019-20 year.

The move makes it easier for the district to fire employees deemed poorly performing, and supporters said the tool was needed to remove obstacles to improving the schools. The state board took over Pine Bluff’s district in September, and Little Rock’s schools have been under state control since early 2015. The state education board has the authority to waive school employee protection laws and take several other steps when districts are classified as being in need of intensive support.

“We must embrace a moral urgency ... to students whose education needs have not been served by past policies, practices and adult actions,” State Education Commissioner Johnny Key told the panel before a daylong hearing on the waiver requests.

Members of the audience shouted “shame on you” at the board after it approved the waiver for Little Rock’s district. The panel approved the waiver after a scaled-back plan to apply it only to teachers in Little Rock schools that the state has rated “D″ or “F″ failed to move forward.

“You are declaring, essentially, war on the people you need to solve these problems,” Democratic state Sen. Will Bond told the panel before the vote.

The Little Rock district and its teachers union last month agreed to a contract after weeks of tense negotiations. The contract included language that said the education department could petition the state for a waiver for poor performing schools. It also included a due-process clause that said no disciplinary action can be taken against an employee without “just cause.”

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