AP NEWS

State board backs some local control for Little Rock schools

September 20, 2019

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas State Board of Education on Friday approved a plan to give limited local control to the Little Rock School District nearly five years after the state took over the district amid concerns about lagging student performance at some schools.

The panel approved a “proposed framework” for the future of the roughly 23,000-student district if it fails to meet the requirements for leaving state control in January. The board voted in January 2015 to take over the district, dismissing the school board and putting the superintendent under state supervision, over the academic performance at six of its 48 schools.

State law requires the district to be consolidated, annexed or reconstituted if it doesn’t meet the criteria for returning to local control. The benchmarks largely focus on ACT Aspire student test results.

The plan calls for the election of a nine-member school board in November 2020, but with some limits on the board’s authority. The proposal doesn’t define what limits the board will have and says it “may” operate under the direction and approval of the state’s education commissioner. The proposal sets up three categories of schools, with schools that the state has rated “D″ or higher operating under the elected school board. Schools with an “F″ would operate under “different leadership,” in partnership with the district, according to the plan.

Details of what is meant by different leadership weren’t immediately clear.

The plan drew objections from several parents, who criticized it for not completely ending the state control of the district immediately. They also complained that the proposed categories of schools and how they would be governed risk further segregating the district’s schools.

“Return the school district. Treat everybody with dignity and respect,” Democratic Sen. Joyce Elliott said. “That’s not what this does.”

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson and state Education Secretary Johnny Key applauded the board’s move.

“This is an important step in the return to local control with continued support from the state,” Hutchinson said in a statement from his office.

The board also tabled until October a proposal to no longer recognize the Little Rock Education Association, a union for district employees, as the bargaining representative for those workers. The surprise proposal was delayed after heated opposition from educators and parents.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo