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Little Rock's mayoral candidates are critical of Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key's plans to waive teacher-dismissal rules for more than half the schools in the Little Rock School District.

Key rejected on Oct. 22 a 2018-2019 tentative agreement between the state-run district and its employees' union, the Little Rock Education Association, and called for a waiver that would apply to D- and F-ranked schools. He said later that he saw the waiver as a tool to quickly raise student achievement, but extended the existing agreement to Nov. 14 as negotiations continue. The contract approved in 2017 was set to expire today.

Mayoral candidate Baker Kurrus, a past state-appointed superintendent for the district, posted a statement on Facebook saying the timing of the decision seemed unfair and urging Key to "step back from his demand."

Kurrus said Key's announcement forced teachers to make a difficult decision on short notice.

The state-run district should extend the current agreement, Kurrus said, calling to employ a mediator if necessary and "get to work improving results rather than forcing an unnecessary showdown." He offered to serve as a volunteer facilitator.

Mayoral candidate and state Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, posted a statement saying Key's plan demonstrated the problem with one appointed person making unilateral decisions for the district.

"We need to do everything we can to improve our schools, but there is no evidence that waiving state laws that were adopted through a deliberative democratic process will solve any problems," Sabin wrote.

Sabin said the focus should be on attracting and retaining high-quality educators, rather than singling out teachers for corrective action. He called for an elected school board, which the district had before the state takeover in 2015.

Candidate and banker Frank Scott Jr. said in a statement that he also believed the lack of a locally controlled school board was the root of the problem, adding that Key's proposal invokes a double standard.

"Teachers will be treated differently depending on the location of their employment without any regard to the unique circumstances at each of our schools," he wrote. "This would make our city, our schools and our teachers even further disconnected."

Scott said city leaders should provide support and resources to the district's students and teachers. If elected, he said he would hire Little Rock's first chief education officer, who would collaborate with the Little Rock School District, the Little Rock Education Association and others to increase resources and opportunities for students and teachers.

Candidate and activist Vincent Tolliver, who for years has been vocal about issues facing the Little Rock School District, called Key's decision "another slap in the face to the teachers" in a Facebook post.

Tolliver said the district's problem is not the teachers, but Key and state bureaucrats who are unqualified to head the schools and "know nothing about educating our kids." He called for the state to "give us back our d*** schools!"

Glen Schwarz said Tuesday that he believed education is not in the mayor's purview and noted that he had no employment protection when he was a teacher at a school for children with behavioral problems.

The mayor has no legal power over the Little Rock School District, but cooperative efforts between the city and schools are possible. Mayors can also use their bully pulpit to advocate and help create change in areas outside their purview.

Little Rock's mayor serves a four-year term and receives an annual salary of $160,000.

Early voting is underway, and Election Day is Tuesday.

Metro on 10/31/2018

Print Headline: Little Rock hopefuls criticize Key on teacher dismissal plan

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