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State decision to lift restrictions on the Little Rock School Board, explained

by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette , Nyssa Kruse | July 14, 2021 at 9:33 a.m.
FILE — Little Rock School District headquarters are shown in this 2019 file photo.

This story is a part of The Article, your guide to Arkansas news and culture, presented by the Democrat-Gazette. Sign up for The Article's twice-weekly newsletter here or to see stories that have appeared in past newsletters, go here.

The Arkansas Board of Education voted Thursday to remove the 2019 restrictions or “guardrails” it placed on the Little Rock School Board’s authority to operate, freeing the district to act more like other districts.

Back up: Why did the school board have restrictions from the state?

In 2015, the Arkansas Board of Education voted to take control of the Little Rock School District because six of the 48 schools open at the time were classified as academically distressed due to chronically low student achievement on state-required tests.

The locally elected school board was dissolved, and the superintendent was placed under the direction of the state secretary of education.

However, the state can only control a district for 5 years before it must return the district to full local control, reconstitute the district or disband it.

The Board of Education voted in 2019 to return the district to the control of a locally elected school board, but it put restrictions on that board’s authority until the district exited the level 5 category of the state accountability system.

What were the restrictions?

So long as the district was considered in level 5, the Little Rock School Board was prohibited from:

Changing the superintendent without state approval

• Modifying the selection process for the district’s personnel policy committee

• Recognizing any employee bargaining agent (such as the Little Rock Education Association, a union that had represented staff and teachers until the state Board of Education ended recognition of LREA in 2019)

Instigating any lawsuits other than routine litigation against vendors or contractors

What made the state remove the restrictions now?

The state and the district had agreed on an exit plan that would prepare the district to be moved to level 4 in the state monitoring system.

The exit plan required the district to:

• Use certain models and frameworks to organize the work of the schools

• Perform teacher and administrator evaluations

• Implement a certain curriculum for reading instruction

• Have a state-approved master facilities plan

• Create a three-year budget plan that would not require the district to dip into reserves for operating expenses

The education board was satisfied with the district’s progress and plans in those areas and voted unanimously that the district could move to level 4 monitoring and be released from the restrictions on the school board.

What happens next?

In an interview after the vote, Little Rock School Board President Vicki Hatter said that nothing is changing in light of the lifting of the restrictions, adding the board has not discussed any lawsuits or changing the superintendent.

Read more about the state board’s decision from reporter Cynthia Howell and go here to sign up for our education newsletter, Grade Point Arkansas.

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