Attack on the LRSD

State Education Commissioner Johnny Key, who has acted as the school board for the Little Rock School District since 2015, when it was taken over by the state because six of its 48 schools were deemed in “academic distress,” announced last week that he would not agree to a new contract for LRSD teachers unless they agreed to endorse the waiver of the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act.

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That law, enacted in 1979, affords teachers statewide basic due-process rights in employment, including a requirement that an administrator document a teacher’s failings before firing him or her. Key wants LRSD teachers to agree to waive the fair dismissal law at the 22 LRSD schools that received a “D” or “F” under the state’s new accountability rubric. He told reporters, “The district needs greater flexibility to address staffing changes in the struggling schools than what the negotiated agreement currently allows.”

But when pressed, Key could only point to one example when the fair dismissal law had stood in the way of the LRSD’s firing of a teacher — and that teacher was eventually terminated. Neither Key, nor his boss, Governor Hutchinson, have had an answer for how it’s fair to waive the fair dismissal law at Little Rock schools when there are 180 additional “D” and “F” schools around the state.

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The contract move is clearly designed to try to gravely wound the Little Rock Education Association, which negotiates on behalf of Little Rock teachers with the district. The LREA is the strongest affiliate of the statewide Arkansas Education Association, and Key, Hutchinson and their political backers, including the ultrarich Walton family and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman, are staunch opponents of unions.

The current teacher contract was set to expire Oct. 31, but Key granted the union and LRSD Superintendent Michael Poore a two-week extension to continue negotiating.

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Independent redistricting proposal OK’d

A proposed constitutional amendment that would establish an independent commission to draw the boundaries of state legislative and congressional districts — seen as a move to end gerrymandering — was approved last week by Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. The Arkansas Board of Apportionment — made up of the governor, secretary of state and attorney general — draws state legislative districts after each U.S. Census. The legislature draws congressional districts. In 2011, that put Democrats in control. In 2021, Republicans would be in control based on current representation

David Couch’s proposal, which is similar to bipartisan approaches adopted in other states, would place a new seven-member commission in charge of both congressional and legislative districts. Majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate would appoint four members to the commission, and those four would then name the other three, none of whom could have a party affiliation in voter registration. Recent elected officials and lobbyists couldn’t serve.

Twerked off

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An email released under a Freedom of Information request seeking to document complaints about Bryant Mayor Jill Dabbs revealed that she directed the parks department to never rent to an African-American group because a video of an event at Bishop Park Pool reveals participants twerking in bikinis.

Parks Director Chris Treat’s complaint covers a lot of ground, but indicates the serious problems began in July over the rental of the city’s pool. Treat believed he was renting to a Little Rock Central High School reunion, but later learned he’d been misled and that the event was a private party, with tickets sold by an entertainment outfit to an event that included a DJ. Most believe that the fact that the booty-shakers were African American contributed to Dabbs’ heartburn. Bryant has been a white-flight suburban haven for years, though it has grown to include many black residents.

No laws were broken by the dance party. No violence was committed. The party people paid the rent and even helped clean up afterward. But the mayor called Treat into a meeting with Bryant Police Chief Mark Kizer after seeing the video and insisted that he issue no statements in defense of the event.  Dabbs said the dancing was pornographic and she demanded that the facility not be rented to this group again. She emailed Treat, “There is debate whether this crude and nude dancing was actually in our park or just made to look like it was. But nonetheless I am demanding we do not rent to these individuals again.”

Treat recounted in his complaint about many aspects of Dabbs’ supervision to the city human resources office, but the dance party was a key issue: ”The Mayor refused to allow me to make any positive statement about the event. She would not allow me to comment on the fact that no policies were violated, no incidents occurred, and that overall it was under control. I felt coerced into making a statement that met the Mayor, Police Chief, and Staff Attorneys version of the events, not my own. In my opinion, they over-responded to the event because the event was attended by African Americans. The Mayor is working on adding Parks Department Policies to keep these kinds of events from happening again. I’m concerned that her new policies will be discriminatory in nature.”

Danny Steele, a former alderman, filed a lawsuit in Saline County Circuit Court last week alleging that the city failed to fully comply with his Freedom of Information request for complaints about Dabbs. Steele requested on Sept. 19 “all complaints” filed by city employees. The city resisted, but finally produced a single email Oct. 17. The lawsuit contends multiple other complaints have not been turned over.