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Don't close your tool box, long-suffering Arkansas voter. The job isn't quite finished. In a few weeks, on Dec. 1, a Tuesday, there will be a couple of runoff elections that weren't decided this month.

And they are important. Maybe more important than president or senator, if you're talking about the future of children in certain central Arkansas precincts.

The question before voters in Little Rock is this: Should the unions once again take over the Little Rock School Board, or would you rather have student-focused independent members of the board?

Some letter writers have called out this column as being too anti- union, at least when it comes to teachers' unions. Aw, we're not necessarily opposed to unions, or even teachers' unions, only the habit the union bosses have of prioritizing things besides the education of children.

Improvement, transparency, and the best instruction of students should be Priority No. 1. But often isn't.

For one example, take the argument/feud/wrasslin' match over school choice. Opponents of vouchers and charter schools--and they are thick at union headquarters--say traditional public schools are drained of money when government starts putting cash into vouchers and charters. But that doesn't explain what happened last year to the Capitol Promise Scholarship Pilot Program in Little Rock.

The governor would have funded this voucher plan (for mostly minority kids) from his discretionary funds. But the opposition held news conferences to denounce the plan. Imagine being bold enough in your opposition to minority kids getting vouchers to better schools that you'd hold a news conference to tell the world. And knowing, if not saying, that such a plan wouldn't take a dime from traditional schools. If we sound frustrated, we're glad you don't misunderstand.

Then there is the problem with holding weak teachers accountable for the lack of progress in their classrooms. Unions oppose such measures. (Even bad teachers pay union dues.)

And we see the union power grabs when available. Most of us remember when dozens of teachers in Little Rock's schools decided they could teach at home earlier this school year, without bothering to inform the superintendent's office in time to line up subs for in-class instruction.

That's policy. But what about the odd bartering and behind-the-scenes quid pro quo when a teachers' union gets control of a school board? The school board sets guidelines, policy, rules--and salary. If a teachers' union gets control of those making the rules at district offices, they can essentially bargain with themselves on how much they are paid, how much time off they're given, and how to restrict transparency in classroom effectiveness. It's nice work, if you can get it.

Unfortunately, outside of government, we don't know anybody else who can get this. Usually bosses don't owe their jobs, election financing and per diem to the employees.

The people of Little Rock have high hopes for the new school board, and rightly so. It's been six years since the last school board election in the city, and the state takeover hasn't gone as well as intended. So local control is reason for hope, at least.

Another reason for high hopes is that the school board will be student-focused and independent. The union has its candidates, and put out the word of its endorsements last month. Several of its picks were selected by voters.

But control of the nine-member board might come down to two races early next month, in Zones 3 and 6.

We recommended, and still recommend, Tommy Branch Jr. in Zone 3. And FranSha' Anderson in Zone 6. Neither seems to be anti-union and certainly nothing close to anti-teacher. But both seem to be pro-student first. Which is all anybody can ask for.

Actually, it's all anybody should ask for.

Tommy Branch is the chair of the Little Rock Area Public Education Stakeholder Group and a former board member himself. FranSha' Anderson is a volunteer, activist, PTA president and professor. More importantly, both are parents.

If they can win their elections--if enough voters show up on Dec. 1--then we have confidence the school board will quickly gets its priorities straight. That is, do what's in the best interest of students. And not go back, once again, to a union-controlled board that got the district so off-target that the state had to take control in the first place.

Write it down somewhere: Dec. 1.

Your work, voters, isn't quite done.


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