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story.lead_photo.caption FILE — Little Rock School District headquarters are shown in this 2019 file photo. ( Gavin Lesnick)

The newly established Little Rock School Board will tentatively hold its first meeting on Dec. 17 unless runoff elections push that meeting into January, according to a presentation during the Arkansas Board of Education meeting Thursday.

Nineteen candidates have filed for the nine School Board slots that will be on the Nov. 3 general election ballot. Early voting begins Oct. 19.

Courtney Salas-Ford, chief legal counsel for the Arkansas Department of Education, said the county clerk will certify the election results sometime between Nov. 5 and Nov. 23.

With this being an unprecedented election year because of the pandemic, certification could come later rather than earlier.

"Sometimes it takes longer depending on mail-in votes, absentee ballots, how quickly the different polling sites turn in their votes," Salas-Ford told the board members.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage »]

After certification of the vote, the successful candidates will be notified.

"Within 10 days of being notified, each of those members has to take an oath before an individual authorized to administer that," Salas-Ford said.

"If in any of the nine elections, there has to be a runoff -- meaning no one member gets more than a majority vote -- then there has to be a runoff on Dec. 1," she said. "Then those same timelines kick in again. So somewhere between Dec. 3 and Dec. 21, the county clerk would have to certify and then notify the qualified candidates. And then they would have their 10 days to take that oath."

That could drag things out until Dec. 31.

[RELATED: Full coverage of elections in Arkansas »]

"If a runoff is not necessary or if all the stars align and everything is taken care of before Dec. 17, the Little Rock School District has already identified Dec. 17 as their monthly meeting date, so if all the newly elected board members have taken the oath and filed that with the county clerk's office, they could meet on Dec. 17, elect officers and draw lots to determine the length of each term," Salas-Ford said.

"However, if one member has not followed all of those procedures, they cannot meet as a fully constituted board, so they would have to wait until Jan. 28, the next regular meeting that has already been established by the Little Rock School District," she said.

On the day of that first School Board meeting, the Community Advisory Board will cease to function, and the school district will be considered to have been returned to local control, Salas-Ford said. Board members have one year to get required training, she said.

The presentation Thursday outlined a time frame for the state-run district, the second-largest in the state, to return to local control with restrictions.

[DOCUMENT: Little Rock School Board timeline and reconstitution of LRSD »]

In January 2015, the state took over the Little Rock School District because six of its then 48 schools were categorized as being in "academic distress" at the time. Those schools had chronically low percentages of students scoring at proficient levels on state math and literacy exams.

As part of the takeover, the state dismissed the locally elected School Board and placed the superintendent's position under the supervision of the Arkansas education commissioner.

The election will mean a return of an elected governing body.

Stacy Smith, director of the Office of Coordinated Support and Service in the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education, reviewed some of the already announced matters during her presentation Thursday.

The locally elected School Board will exercise day-to-day authority over the school district subject to three previously announced limitations, which were included with the board's meeting packet:

• The Little Rock School District board will not make any change to the superintendent without the approval of the Arkansas Board of Education.

• The Little Rock School District Board will not change the manner of selection of the personnel policy committee or its status within the school district, nor will the board recognize any employee bargaining agent without the approval of the state Board of Education.

• The Little Rock School District Board will not institute any litigation other than routine contract litigation against vendors or contractors of the school district without approval of the state Board of Education.

When the Little Rock School District is found to have reached the Level 5-Intensive Support exit criteria, those restrictions will be lifted, according to the document.

"The other two elements for reconstitution of the Little Rock School District have to do with Hall High becoming Hall Magnet High School and with the West Little Rock School of Innovation," Smith said. "So both of those have reconfigured this year and have opened up and are going."

Also, effective with the 2020-21 school year, the name of Pinnacle View High School will be changed to West Little Rock High School of Innovation, and the West Little Rock High School of Innovation will have its own principal, according to the presentation. Those issues have been previously announced.


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