TARGETING LRSD: Board member Diane Zook. Brian Chilson

The state Board of Education will meet at 10 a.m. Thursday in special session to complete business on suggestions to alter the operation of the Little Rock and Pine Bluff School Districts. It is a time for those who believe in local control of the district — looking at you Mayor-elect Frank Scott Jr. and the Little Regional Chamber of Commerce — to stand up and be counted.

We’ve reported that the Board, after some secretive machinations exposed by the Arkansas Times, was set to vote last Thursday to waive the teacher fair dismissal law immediately for all teachers in the Pine Bluff and Little Rock School Districts, both under state control for supposed academic deficiencies.


Objections to action that hadn’t been announced in advance, including from some board members, prompted a delay.

It is likely the fair dismissal waiver will be routinely approved, though Commissioner Johnny Key had indicated the change wouldn’t apply until next year. The thinking on education regulators’ part is that the law is an obstacle to the speedy firing of poor teachers, though scant evidence of that has been offered. Poor teachers, in turn, are being blamed as the primary culprit for low student scores, despite the state being in control for almost four years now.


The special meeting took on heightened significance on account of Board member Diane Zook’s scripted rip of the school district, including some pointed remarks aimed at Superintendent Michael Poore.  Zook, who lives in Izard County and is the aunt of Gary Newton, who is paid $230,000 a year to head an organization financed by the Walton fortune to advocate for charter schools and criticize the Little Rock School District.

Among other things, Zook wants to waive the fair dismissal law for administrators as well as teachers. She’s believed to have painted a target on at least a couple of long-time administrators. If that belief is correct, they happen to be black, at the least an unfortunate appearance given that unhappiness with the black majority on the Little Rock School Board was a driving part of business community endorsement of the state takeover. She’s also targeted Hall High School for reconstitution (a plan by Poore is already under consideration, but Zook seemed to suggest he should put it aside), wants financial and special ed audits and wants administrative reorganization.


The board has leeway to do just about whatever it wants. But, in theory, Johnny Key is the policy-making school board and Michael Poore handles the administrative end, subject to Key’s approval. If Zook, a resident of Izard County, becomes the de facto boss of administration in the Little Rock School District, you can throw any pretense of meaningful local influence out the window.

It is time for supporters of the Little Rock School District to be heard. Frank Scott Jr., who swears he’ll be an advocate for public education as Little Rock mayor, should attend this meeting and demand a timeline for a return of local control. By law, a state lawyer has said, an election should occur in 2019. As yet, Key has refused to acknowledge that and a belief grows that he wants to retain state control for almost six years, through a 2020 election. Scott might have to part from some backers who are supporters of the Waltonization of the school district through charters and other means. It is time he demonstrates where he stands.

The same is true of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, which enjoys a $300,000 taxpayer subsidy and which publicly advocated for the state takeover. It insists it’s a public education advocate. It did support an ill-timed tax millage vote. But that proposal looked too much like a means to fatten the district treasury for the use of those with little interest in a democratically controlled school district and was defeated. Does the chamber support a true public school district in Little Rock? Thursday’s the time to say so.

Silence is complicity.


A ceding of administrative power to Zook might encourage Poore to move on. You can’t fault the energy and goodwill Poore has poured into the district since Key named him to replace Baker Kurrus. But if he has to answer not only to Key and the shadow Walton lobby but to a despotic board member, who could blame him for seeking calmer waters?

The meeting Thursday will be streamed on the web if you can’t attend in person. As yet, no specific agenda has been posted.

ALSO: The LRSD community advisory board will meet at 5:30 p.m. today at Metro Tech to talk about Poore’s blueprint for future district facility use. That’s a good place to be heard, too, though the board is only advisory and has no actual power to speak of in operation of the district. But the state Board of Education needs to hear as many voices as possible.