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Employee panels' size stirs debate for Little Rock School District

by Cynthia Howell | October 18, 2019 at 7:06 a.m.
FILE — Little Rock School District headquarters are shown in this 2019 file photo.

The number of Little Rock School District teachers to be elected to a state-required personnel policy committee generated some debate at Thursday's meeting of the district's Community Advisory Board.

Superintendent Mike Poore and his staff have been developing a recommendation to Arkansas Education Secretary Johnny Key that calls for the new committee to be made up of three administrators and eight teachers -- three from elementary schools, two each from the middle and high school levels and one special services employee such as a speech and language pathologist.

The support staff committee would be made up of three administrators and representatives from each division of the district such as transportation, food service and security.

Some people at Thursday's meeting preferred as many as 40 members on the licensed employees' committee, one representative from each school.

Poore presented the committee election plans to the advisory board for reaction in advance of submitting the committee election plan along with the advisory board comments to Key today.

Key acts in place of a school board for the state-controlled Little Rock district. In response to directives to him from the Arkansas Board of Education, Key has directed Poore to end collective bargaining for employee contracts and to take steps to establish personnel policy committees -- one for licensed teachers and one for support staff. The role of the committees is to provide advice to school boards and administrators on employee-related matters such as compensation, benefits, work day schedules and school year calendars.

[DOCUMENT: Letters from Secretary Johnny Key to LRSD staff, superintendent » arkansasonline.com/1018letters]

Personnel policy committees are used in every Arkansas school district but Little Rock, which has for decades recognized the Little Rock Education Association as the exclusive contract bargaining agent for nonadministrative employees.

"Why wouldn't we start with a bigger pool of teachers, and I'm not opposed to one from each building," advisory board member Melanie Fox told Poore in response to the proposed membership of eight teachers on the licensed personnel policy committee.

"What if three teachers from west Little Rock get nominated and elected and then this area of the town would be unrepresented?" she asked. "I think it is important to have more voices than less."

"We felt that the best thing that could happen is to have a manageable group to start off with," Poore said about the committee for teachers and the goal of having the members nominated, elected and ready to operate by January.

He said the committee's initial tasks will include establishing bylaws.

"I get your point that a big group is hard to manage," Fox said, "but I get concerned that not everyone will be represented and it is important that they are. I'd rather have a group of 40 and let them elect officers and break out into subcommittees and start tackling these things."

Jeff Wood, chairman of the advisory board, also supported the larger number, noting that the committee could ultimately decide to reduce its size the next time a membership election is conducted.

Anthony Hampton, another of the four advisory board members present Thursday night, suggested that members could be elected from clusters of schools. Advisory board member Michael Mason urged that a survey of district teachers be done to determine what they would prefer in terms of member numbers on the personnel policy committee.

The election proposals for both the teachers and the support staff call for the American Arbitration Association to oversee the two-part election system for each group. The first two-week round of voting by employees will be a nominating round in which employees use an online ballot to nominate who they want to be their representative on the policy committee. That is scheduled to start Oct. 28.

The second round of online voting will center on selecting committee members from all who have been nominated. That is to start Nov. 19 and go through Dec. 9.

The arbitration association's proposed fee is $3.25 per eligible voter at each election. Poore has estimated that the cost of the elections to the district will be under $20,000.

[DOCUMENT: Agreement between LRSD and LREA » arkansasonline.com/1018agreement]

Little Rock Education Association President Teresa Knapp Gordon was present but did not address the advisory board on the election plans. She said after the meeting that union leaders and Poore had agreed earlier to an eight-teacher member personnel policy committee to serve as an advisory body to the collective bargaining teams. That was before the state Education Board's call for the end to recognizing the employee union.

She predicted that a personnel policy committee of 40 or more members will result in gridlock, and its members are unlikely to have the experience and training in budgets, policy and law that union leaders have.

She also said it was unfortunate that the district will have to pay for elections when the employee association routinely conducts elections at no cost.

Parent Ali Noland, a member of the audience, questioned the advisory board about the cost of the elections and she urged it to listen to teachers on the issue.

"I hope that whatever you do is done in a way that will be compatible going forward with the Little Rock Education Association because we will have a locally elected board that will get to decide whether or not to recognize LREA for bargaining power," Noland said.

Audience member Julia Taylor expressed appreciation to the advisory board's work.

"We are counting on you to keep this district intact until we do get an elected school board again," Taylor said and then spoke in support of having a teacher representative elected to the personnel policy committee. She also said the election timeline is ridiculously short.

Kimberly Crutchfield, a teacher at Central High, asked whether the board would recommend reinstatement of employee union recognition, which is to end Oct. 31.

"You all can be the voice of reason and you can recommend that the state reinstate the LREA because 70 percent of teachers -- that's what we want," she said.

She also called for a teacher group to verify the results of any forthcoming election.

"Right now we don't trust y'all," she said.

While the Community Advisory Board met on the personnel policy committees and other issues -- including a budget update and a report on teacher salary rankings in the state -- a group of about 40 people, advocates for an immediate return of the district to a locally elected school board, was holding its own meeting on the front steps of the district's administration building.

Former Little Rock School Board members C.E. McAdoo, Joy Springer and Jim Ross raised issues such as school resources, and asked for motions and votes from the group. Their cheering could be heard inside the administration building.

Planning for the election of the personnel policy committees follows in the wake of the Arkansas Board of Education's Oct. 11 meeting during which it:

• Directed Key to end the decades-old recognition of the Little Rock Education Association as the exclusive contract bargaining agent for the employees, effective when the current employee contract agreement expires Oct. 31.

• Revoke its December 2018 waivers of the Arkansas Teacher Fair Dismissal Act and the Public Employees Fair Hearing Act in the Little Rock district, thereby reinstating employment protections that had been set aside in an effort to streamline the process of dismissing ineffective teachers.

• Waive the provisions in state law dealing with the timing and oversight of employee elections to personnel policy committees, enabling a third-party organization to run the election of teachers and support staff to the committees.

Metro on 10/18/2019

Print Headline: Employee panels' size stirs debate for Little Rock School District

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