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Little Rock Area Public School Stakeholder Group: Mission Creep Part II?

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Saturday, June 25, 2016
Updated: Saturday, June 25, 2016

On January 28, 2015, in the same passed motion which replaced the Little Rock School Board with the Commissioner of Education, the State Board of Education, upon an amendment by Jay Barth, called for "...a formal body of parents, students, community and business leaders, reflective of the Little Rock community and philanthropic organizations (to) serve as a Civic Advisory Committee to aid in improving the performance of students in all schools."

It didn't.

Instead, the 34-member group, appointed solely by Little Rock Legislators and LRSD superintendents, chose to spend its time, energy and platform fighting future and past decisions of elected and appointed State government.

Then...

"On April 14, 2016 Dr. Barth moved, seconded by Ms. Reith, that the Arkansas Department of Education will facilitate the engagement of a research facilitator to review the issues below, with the goal of producing non-binding recommendations that aid the board’s decision-making, inform communication among all stakeholders, and identify opportunities for collaboration and coordination among charter schools and traditional schools. The recommendations should lay the groundwork for a multi function model that can be adapted for use in other areas of the state.

"Before selecting a facilitator, a small (5-7 person) stakeholder group of individuals that represent traditional public schools, open-enrollment charter schools, and the Little Rock community, as a whole shall be formed. The group shall be selected by the Chair of the State Board of Education and the Commissioner based upon recommendations from charter leaders in Pulaski County south of the river, superintendents of the Pulaski County school districts south of the river, State Board of Education members, members of the General Assembly representing Pulaski County south of the river, and city officials south of the river. The stakeholder group should 1) identify data questions; 2) define key terms; and 3) set measurement parameters that must be addressed by the research facilitator in addressing the issues below. The stakeholder group, in collaboration with ADE, should select the research group. The ADE should engage the Office of Innovation for Education to act as a liaison between the research facilitator and the stakeholder group to provide data-informed recommendations. The recommendations shall be non-binding.

"The issues to be addressed by the research facilitators are the following:

  • How every student can have access to a school that is achieving;
  • How schools can best meet the educational needs of a student population markedly diverse in terms of income levels, achievement levels, English language learners, and students with disabilities;
  • How to be most cost effective and fiscally efficient in the delivery of education;
  • How to respond to patterns that students with certain characteristics (in terms of achievement levels, demographics, etc.) are more likely, at present, to seek out open-enrollment charter options;
  • How facilities should be modernized and spread across the area based on the current demographics of the area with an eye to future demographic patterns;
  • How collaboration between traditional public schools and open-enrollment charter educational offerings can maximize the achievement of students and fiscal efficiency of the system of public education south of the river.

"A quarterly report should be provided to the State Board regarding the status of the efforts outlined in this motion. The first quarterly report should reflect the ADE and Office of Innovation for Education’s recommendations on how to
proceed with the study outlined above, including a projected timeline for completion.

"Ms. Zook, Mr. Williams, and Ms. Dean voted no. The final vote was 5-3. The motion carried."

The fourth bullet above presupposes facts that are not supported. The sixth bullet should read "among," not "between," as two traditional school districts and eight open-enrollment public charter schools account for nearly sixty public schools south of the river, where 2/3 of the traditional high schools are in Academic Distress.

In its first meeting (June 6, 2016), the newly appointed seven-member group voted to invite the superintendents of the Little Rock and Pulaski County Special School Districts and the directors of the eight open-enrollment public charter schools to share their perceptions at the group's next (June 29, 2016) meeting.

In advance of his appearance, the outgoing Little Rock School District superintendent chose to send his March 31, 2016 State Board of Education submission opposing the expansions of eStem Public Charter Schools and LISA Academy. His "new" cover letter offered nothing about the district for which he has been responsible for the past year, but was just another diatribe against public schools not in his control.

So much for collaboration.

In a footnoted response, Arkansas Learns has previously refuted most of the superintendent's arguments against the charters.

In his advance written response, the Pulaski County Special School District superintendent took a more expansive view of public education in general. His one-page, nine point response, however, also had the requisite swipe at charter schools:

"5. I believe there are at present three major failings in school structure that prevent the State from fulfilling its responsibility.

"6. The first is publically (sic) funded charter schools. I agree with Baker Kurrus. It is impossible for the State to fund two parallel school systems which by their nature will segregate students into two groups — one group with the most difficult to educate; the other with the students easiest to educate."

The superintendent neglected, however, to mention his continued exemption from School Choice, which limits enrollment to residence, denying LRSD resident students entry and PCSSD resident students exit. The only public school choice available in PCSSD is open-enrollment public charter schools.

While both superintendents rail against "dual education systems" in regard to charters, they are silent in regard to the culpability of their traditional districts:

  • Multi-family residents who live adjacent to Roberts Elementary are denied entry solely because they live in the Pulaski County Special School District;
  • Both LRSD and PCSSD are building/converting two traditional middle schools 2.5 miles apart;
  • New LRSD Middle School students will be double the distance to their zoned high school (Hall) than to their nearest high school (Robinson).

One meeting in, and the Little Rock Area Public School Stakeholder Group is at a crossroads. It can stay true to its original mission and become relevant, perhaps even significant. Or, it can follow the example of the LRSD Civic Advisory Committee and chase the charter bogeymen proffered by superintendents unwilling or unable to collaborate in the best interests of students.

"The stakeholder group should:

  1. identify data questions;
  2. define key terms; and
  3. set measurement parameters that must be addressed by the research facilitator in addressing the issues below (above).

"The stakeholder group, in collaboration with ADE, should select the research group."

It's difficult to see how inviting district and charter leaders to share their "perceptions" with the group advances what it was created to do. Let's hope this will be a brief courtesy detour, and the group will get back and stay on track in its next and future gatherings.

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Arkansas Public School Finance 101

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Sunday, May 8, 2016
Updated: Monday, May 9, 2016

Every school district in Arkansas is required to send to the State 25 mills, the Uniform Rate of Taxation (URT).

Districts retain 100% of local property tax revenue dedicated to public education above 25 mills.

Based on Average Daily Attendance (ADA), the State sends to each district and open-enrollment public charter school, per pupil Foundation funding (currently $6,584 per student).

In 2014-15, Little Rock School District's 46.4 mills (seventh highest in Arkansas) on assessed valuation of $3,453,638,341 (highest in Arkansas) generated $153,257,140 in local property tax revenue dedicated to education (highest in Arkansas).

Subtracting the 25 mill URT sent to the State ($82,573,890), LRSD retained 100% of remaining property tax revenue dedicated to public education - $68,751,824 - whether it had one student or 100,000.

If a district "loses" a student to an open-enrollment charter school, it still receives 100% State Foundation funding for the next 1.5 years.

When a student is truant, moves, transfers through inter-district school choice, chooses an open-enrollment public charter school, chooses a private school, and/or chooses home school, the maximum, in current dollars, any school district loses in State Foundation funding is $6,584 per student. Meanwhile, it retains 100% of local funds without the expense of educating the student. Therefore, per pupil spending goes up with each student lost.

Additional state, federal funds accompany specific student demographics, such as Gifted and Talented, Alternative Learning Environment, Free and Reduced Lunch, English Language Learners, and Special Education students.

A $63 per pupil increase in State Foundation funding ($1,459,332) and $3,547,990 increase in local property tax revenue totaled a $5,007,322 gain to the district in 2015-16.

When projected enrollment caps are reached in eleven years for the latest eStem Public Charter Schools and LISA Academy expansions, the total annual loss to the district is projected be 1,139 students, $7,499,176 in current annual Foundation dollars.

In other words, 120 proposed new Little Rock Preparatory Academy students, even if 100% came from LRSD, would not equal $1,000,000 annual loss to the LRSD, as one publication has repeatedly quoted the superintendent as saying. Rather, it would be a maximum of $790,080, 21% less. And no charter school in Arkansas, including Little Rock Preparatory Academy, receives 100% of its students from one district.

It continues to be claimed that the recently approved eStem Public Charter Schools and LISA Academy expansions will amount to an annual "loss" to the LRSD of $19,633,488 in State Foundation funding.

Only 54% and 53% of eStem and LISA's current respective enrollment resides in the LRSD, and only 71% of students in Pulaski County attend traditional schools. Therefore, a more accurate projection of State Foundation funding "loss" to LRSD is $7,499,176 a year in current dollars. Once total new enrollment reaches its cap after 11 years, that's a difference between what is claimed and what is actually projected of 62%.

2014-15 Financial Database for Districts

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One Year Later, LRSD Civic Advisory Committee Neglects Singular Purpose

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Friday, April 29, 2016
Updated: Sunday, May 1, 2016

On January 28, 2015, in the same passed motion which replaced the Little Rock School Board with the Commissioner of Education, the State Board of Education called for "...a formal body of parents, students, community and business leaders, reflective of the Little Rock community and philanthropic organizations (to) serve as a Civic Advisory Committee to aid in improving the performance of students in all schools." No more; no less.

The previous Commissioner of Education delegated his authority to appoint the committee to Little Rock Legislators, who after over eighty applications, chose a member for each of LRSD's seven board zones, including a removed board member, Joy Springer, who is now suing the Superintendent, Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner, and State Board of Education in federal court. Legislators also appointed two non-profit organization representatives. The then-superintendent appointed two students and two teachers from each of the six Academic Distress Schools. After Baker Kurrus was named superintendent, he appointed removed LRSD Board President Greg Adams to serve as Co-Chairman along with Zone 4 Member Dionne Jackson, for a total of 34 members.

In the Committee's year of service it has 1) opposed the expansions of eStem Public Charter Schools and LISA Academy, 2) opposed $3,000,000 private investment to bring Teach for America teachers into district, 3) called upon the Governor to replace Commissioner Johnny Key, 4) called upon the State Board of Education to return the district to return local governance to the Little Rock School District following School Board elections September 20, 2016, and 5) called for a freeze on charters and waivers within Pulaski County until local control is granted.

The Committee's sole purpose was "to aid in improving the performance of students in all schools." And yet, it chooses to spend its time, energy and platform fighting future and past decisions of elected and appointed State government.

After a year of retreats and committee/sub-committee meetings and reports to the State Board, I challenge any member of the committee, including two members of the City of Little Rock Board of Directors, to name one way in which the committee has aided in improving the performance of any student in any school.

The appointment of the seven-member LRSD Advisory Board, prescribed by law and rule, cannot come soon enough.

Minutes, State Board of Education Meeting, Thursday, January 28, 2016

LRSD Civic Advisory Committee, June 4, 2015

LRSD Civic Advisory Committee - Retreat Summary, September 19, 2015

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Missed Little Rock Rally Opportunities

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Updated: Wednesday, April 27, 2016

If student learning was the priority of all residents and leaders of the Little Rock School District and City of Little Rock, perhaps one or more of the previous Arkansas Department of Education announcements would have warranted a public rally.

2016

Five (5) LRSD Schools Still in Academic Distress (2013-15 Three-year Average of Less Than 49.5% Proficient)

2015

Five (5) LRSD Schools Still in Academic Distress (2013-2015 Three-year Average of Less Than 49.5% Proficient)

Eight (8) LRSD Schools Named Priority Schools (Lowest Performing 5% in Arkansas)

Fifteen (15) LRSD Schools Named Focus Schools (Lowest Performing 6-10% in Arkansas)

Eight (8) LRSD Schools Receive an 'F' on State's First A-F School Report Card.  

Twenty-three (23) of the districts 42 tested schools performed in the bottom 10% in the State.

2014

Six (6) LRSD Schools Named in Academic Distress (2012-2014 Three-year Average of 49.5% or Less Proficient)

Seven (7) LRSD Schools Still Priority Schools (Lowest Performing 5% in Arkansas)

Nine (9) LRSD Schools Still Focus Schools (Lowest Performing 6-10% in Arkansas)

Sixteen (16) of the district's 42 tested schools performed in the bottom 10% in the State.

2013

Six (6) LRSD Named in Academic Distress (2011-2013 Three-year Average of 49.5% or Less Proficient)

Seven (7) LRSD Schools Still Priority Schools (Lowest Performing 5% in Arkansas)

Nine (9) LRSD Schools Still Focus Schools (Lowest Performing 6-10% in Arkansas)

Sixteen (16) of the district's 42 tested schools performed in the bottom 10% in the State.

2012

Seven (7) LRSD Schools Still Priority Schools (Lowest Performing 5% in Arkansas)

Nine (9) LRSD Schools Still Focus Schools (Lowest Performing 6-10% in Arkansas)

Sixteen (16) of the district's 42 tested schools performed in the bottom 10% in the State.

2011

Eight (8) LRSD Schools Named Priority Schools (Lowest Performing 5% in Arkanas)

Ten (10) LRSD Schools Named Focus Schools (Lowest Performing 6-10% in Arkansas) 

Eighteen (18) of the district's 42 tested schools performed in the bottom 10% in the State.

 

Schools could not be added to the federally required 2011 Focus and Priority lists; they could only emerge. In four years, only two LRSD schools did, but one of those returned on the new list in 2015, along with six additional schools, totaling more than half of those tested.

And yet, there were no petitions, no resolutions...no rallies.

When the non-proficiency of a student becomes a greater catalyst for outrage and action than the non-renewal of an adult, Little Rock and her people will finally move to the right side of history.

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Why November? Because Participation Matters

Posted By Andrew Bagley, Monday, April 25, 2016

Since the Helena-West Helena School District Community Advisory Board announced at the March meeting of the Arkansas State Board of Education its plan to hold the upcoming school board elections in November with a redistricting plan that called for five single member zones and two at-large positions, HWHSD has been the subject of considerable discussion and I have been contacted numerous times from parties locally and statewide. Nearly everyone weighing in on this topic has asked why we have gone against what appears to be the prevailing wisdom throughout Arkansas.

The first answer is participation matters. Engagement between a community and its school district leads to trust and involvement. For decades, Helena-West Helena has seen board elections result in leadership of the district being elected by a very small group of people with very narrow interests. Over time, this resulted in substantial portions of our constituency losing faith and feeling left out. That led to more disengagement and distrust. More families left the system and disengaged totally from this indispensable work. Our schools suffered. Our community suffered. Something needed to change.

As our board began to prepare for the local control we yearned to have, our board made a decision that openness, transparency, and participation should be maximized when electing the governing leadership of our school district. Thankfully, Senator Jane English sponsored Act 1281, which was supported by Senator Keith Ingram and Representative Chris Richey. This law changed the school election law to provide us with an option to move the elections to November. Our advisory board courageously and unanimously agreed that this was the best way to reengage our community in the process of electing a school board. We are grateful that Commissioner Johnny Key approved our redistricting plan and request for a November election.

Instead of a few hundred selecting the school board, we will have a few thousand involved in this process based on past turnouts for general elections held in November. It is our belief that this will result in increased community engagement with our district in other areas as well and begin to restore hope and faith amongst the vast majority of those residing in our district. In short, it is the beginning of a process and we already see more optimism as we discuss the upcoming elections with our patrons. In fact, by taking this action and seeking out more community input in this process, we believe we have increased our chances of passing a millage to do a much-needed transformation of our high school facilities. We will seek that increase in November as well.

September elections are inevitably low turnout because most people are just getting kids back in school and focusing on that routine which is filled with extracurricular activities. We shouldn’t be making it harder for them to participate by having a low-key election with one or two issues when so many aren’t paying attention to political matters. We shouldn’t want a board elected by a skewed subset of the community that represents a very narrow interest. History shows that was a disaster for the Helena-West Helena School District. We believe moving with a November vote will result in a brighter future, more stable governance, and provide substantial dividends in the long-term in the form of increased trust and support from a wide and diverse swath of our community. That is good for our district, our students, and our community. Great things happen every day in the Helena-West Helena Schools.

Andrew Bagley is the President of the Community Advisory Board for the Helena-West Helena School District. He is a Social Science Instructor for Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and History from Ouachita Baptist University and a Master of Arts Degree in Political Science from Baylor University. He previously taught in public school systems in Elaine and Helena-West Helena. Additionally, Bagley has one grandchild attending HWHSD’s J. F. Wahl Primary School and has been the Voice of Cougar Athletics on the radio for the past 11 years.

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Selective, Ironic, Groundhog Day Outrage

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Updated: Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Perspective, please.

The latest uproar over the superintendency of the Little Rock School District isn't about the changing of the guard, but who is changing it and who no longer has the authority and/or influence to change it.

In 1982, the Little Rock School District Board voted to sue the NLRSD, PCSSD and State of Arkansas in U.S. District Court. Between then and 2015, the LRSD Board had 23 superintendents in 33 years, including interim and permanent.

In the 111 years prior to that, it had 14.

Since the State intervened in the district in January of 2015, and the Commissioner assumed responsibility as the board, Dexter Suggs was removed from the position in April 2015 after retaliatory "opposition research" into his academic background by those opposed to State intervention in the district.

Commissioner Johnny Key then sought and received a waiver from the State Board of Education to employ a non-traditional leader, Baker Kurrus, who was then volunteering as chairman of the district's finance committee, to a one-year contract.

Nearly one year later, that same Commissioner, with the same authority as the LRSD school boards before him, chose to transition district leadership to a strong academic leader, with a proven record of public school and community leadership.

Many of the same voices now outraged by the Commissioner's decision were equally outraged when he, and only he, chose to seek a waiver on qualifications from the State Board and hire Mr. Kurrus.

Perhaps most disturbingly, many leaders who have never raised their voices or used their authority in any way to support public education excellence are weighing in now that they sense a political opportunity.

Meanwhile, the man who actually benefitted this community with the business and organizational leadership of Baker Kurrus has now delivered a proven public school academic leader to build upon his predecessor's progress and shepherd the district and community to excellence.

Over strenuous initial opposition, results and reaction prove that Commissioner Key got it right a year ago. In the face of strenuous opposition today, hasn't he earned the benefit of the doubt with his latest decision?

I empathize and share in the lament of the conclusion of Mr. Kurrus's pivotal service. But the loss of so many superintendents over the years has always been tempered by the hope that successors would perform even better. The fact that Mr. Kurrus was the rare one who did understandably exacerbates the disappointment of those who believe LRSD has finally begun to trend in a positive direction.

One year ago, I supported Commissioner Key's decision to hire Mr. Kurrus, and I support his decision to hire Mr. Poore today. May the best interests of students guide all of his, their and our decisions.

 

Superintendents of the Little Rock School District (1869 - 2016)

Mr. Michael Poore - July 2016 -
Mr. Baker Kurrus - May 2015 - June 2016
Mr. Dexter Suggs - July 2013 - April 2015
Mr. Marvin Burton (interim)-- March 2013 - July 2013
Dr. Morris L. Holmes - July 2011-March 2013
Dr. Morris L. Holmes (interim) -- January 2011 - July 2011
Dr. Linda Watson -- July 2008 - January 2011
Dr. Linda Watson (interim) -- August 2007 - July 2008
Dr. Roy G. Brooks -- July 2004 - August 2007
Dr. Morris L. Holmes (interim) -- August 2003 - June 2004
Dr. Donald Stewart (interim) -- June 2003 - August 2003
Dr. T. Kenneth James -- June 2001 - June 2003
Dr. Leslie V. Carnine -- September 1997 - June 2001
Dr. Don Roberts (interim) -- 15 Aug 1996 - September 1997
Dr. Henry P. Williams -- 1 Oct 1993 - July 1996
Mrs. Estelle Matthis (interim) -- 1 Jul 1993 - 1 Oct 1993
Dr. Cloyde McKinley (Mac) Bernd -- 1 Jul 1992 - 30 Jun 1993
Dr. Ruth S. Steele -- 15 Jul 1989 - 30 Jun 1992
Dr. George D. Cannon -- 23 Dec 1987 - 5 Aug 1989
Dr. George D. Cannon (interim) -- October 1987 - December 1987
Mr. Vance Jones (acting) -- 1 Jul 1987 - October 1987
Dr. Edward L. Kelly -- June 1982 - June 1987
Dr. Ruth S. Steele (acting) -- May 1982 - June 1982
Dr. Paul W. Masem -- August 1978 - May 1982
Mr. Winston F. Simpson (acting) -- 6 January 1978 - 14 August 1978
Mr. Paul R. Fair -- 1 Jul 1972 - 6 January 1978
Mr. Floyd W. Parsons -- 1 Aug 1961 - 30 Jun 1972
Mr. Terrell E. Powell (acting) -- 22 Dec 1958 - 1 Aug 1961
Mr. Virgil T. Blossom -- 1 Jul 1953 - 30 Nov 1958
Mr. Ed F. McCuistion (acting) -- 1 Jan 1953 - 1 Mar 1953
Mr. H.A. Little -- 1948 - 1953
Mr. R.T. Scobee -- 1941 - 1948
Mr. Robert Cleveland Hall -- 1909 - 1941
Mr. B.W. Torreyson -- 1905 - 1909
Mr. J.M. Fish -- 1876 - 1884
Mr. J.B. Bond (acting) -- 1 May 1875 - 1876
Mr. Jacob R. Rightsell -- 28 Nov 1871 - 1874; 1884 - 1905
Mr. N.P. Gates -- 1 Sep 1869 - 28 Nov 1871

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School Choice Deniers and the 'Boo Radley' of Arkansas Education

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Saturday, April 16, 2016
Updated: Saturday, April 16, 2016

"John Walker" and his "Joshua Intervenors" have become the new "Lake View," the vauge, ominous Sword of Damocles education advocates of unpopular positions have long dangled over the heads of policy makers to get what they want while absolving themselves of any responsibility.

And yet, Mr. Walker is 0-3 in his last three legal actions in regard to the Arkansas Department of Education. Yes, he is a nuisance, but he is no longer the threat he once was when he actually had legal bases for his arguments.

On Thursday, April 14th, the State Board of Education, in a split vote, denied the appeals of three parents seeking School Choice transfers from the Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District (JNPSD) to neighboring Cabot School District. With a School Choice transfer deadline of May 1st, the appeals were sure to be the first of many.

Those advocating for and voting to deny the appeals did so claiming they did not want to thrust the State back into federal court and (my words) into the clutches of "John Walker." Meanwhile, members voting to deny seemed to either miss or ignore the fact that the attorney for JNPSD, Scott Richardson, while admitting the district "chose" to exempt, claimed "School Choice" transfers were controlled by "Legal Transfer" limitations in the Desegregation Settlement Agreement, even though the Agreement itself clearly delineates the transfers' differences.

Mr. Richardson was on Attorney General Dustin McDaniel's staff when the Desegregation Settlement Agreement was crafted, negotiated and approved. So he, Mr. McDaniel and their new law firm are fully aware of the distinction between "Legal Transfers" (application below) and "School Choice" transfers.

The 2014 Desegregation Settlement Agreement is the only federal court order cited by the Pulaski County Special School District (PCSSD) in its decision to exempt from Act 560, the School Choice Act of 2015. Therefore, that is the only only reference the new Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District (JNPSD) may use in its choice to exempt. Inexplicably, it cites Plan 2000, from which it and its precedent PCSSD have been released in regard to Student Assignment (see below).

So, here's all that six-page Settlement and accompanying three-page order from Federal Judge D. Price Marshall, Jr. says about transfers:

"F. School District Obligations

3. In addition to the students assigned to Magnet and M to M programs as of the Effective Date of the Agreement, the Districts agree to allow a certain number of legal transfers between the Districts for five consecutive years, beginning in 2014-15, as follows. PCSSD agrees to approve the legal transfers of up to 30 students per year to NLRSD and 30 students per year to LRSD for each of the five years. Siblings of transferred students will be given first priority. If necessary to accommodate siblings of transferred students in excess of the 30 transfers per year limit shall be deducted from the next year's 30 student transfer limit for that District. In no event shall the number of legal transfers from PCSSD exceed 150 students for NLRSD and 150 students for LRSD during the five year period. During this period, PCSSD may consider but is not required to approval legal transfers from NLRSD or LRSD. NLRSD and LRSD agree to approve legal transfers of up to 30 students per year each to the other for each of the five years with the same exception for sibling transfers outlined above. During the five year period, the Districts agree to abide by the terms of Act 1227 of 2013, the Arkansas Public School Choice Act of 2013, including the exemption provision contained in Ark. Code Ann. 6-18-1906(a) and (b). For students transferred under this provision, the Districts further agree to waive the transfer review at the end of four years, referenced in Ark. Code Ann. 6-18-316(g), and allow the students who have transferred pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. 6-18-316 to remain in the District to which they have transferred for the remainder of their kindergarten through twelfth grade education if the students so choose. The State and the Districts agree that the transfers allowed in this paragraph will not negatively affect the racial balance of the Districts as referenced in Ark. Code Ann. 6-18-317. If necessary, ADE will provide a waiver of prohibition.

Judge Marshall's accompany order, filed August 21, 2014, stated:

"CONSENT JUDGEMENT

"6. ...the Court dismissed PCSSD from, and releases PCSSD regarding, the following sections of Plan 2000:

  • Section C - Student Assignment..."

"The Court remains available, as may be necessary, to adjudicate any disputes that might arise under the Joshua/PCSSD stipulation as explained in Sections 2, 3, and 4 of No 4940."

Points/Questions for Those Choosing School Choice Exemption or Denying Parent Appeals

  1. John Walker will do what he does. His specific or implied threats of legal action should not deter those in authority from acting, within the law, in the best interests of students and families. Judge Marshall was specific in his order that the "Court remains available, as may be necessary, to adjudicate any disputes that might arise under the Joshua/PCSSD stipulation..." In regard to appeals, the State Board of Education should put the burden of proof squarely on the districts, not the families.
  2. "Legal Transfers" are not "School Choice" transfers, as each are prescribed by different statutes. Therefore, the latter is not limited by the former.
  3. "Legal Transfer" limits were not contemplated for JNPSD, but only between PCSSD, North Little Rock School District (NLRSD) and Little Rock School District (LRSD), therefore there is no limit to "Legal Transfers" between PCSSD and JNPSD.
  4. "Legal Transfers" are not limited to districts outside of Pulaski County (e.g. Cabot).
  5. PCSSD, and by extension JNPSD, have been declared unitary in regard to student assignment.
  6. "During the five year period, the Districts agree to abide by the terms of Act 1227 of 2013, the Arkansas Public School Choice Act of 2013, including the exemption provision contained in Ark. Code Ann. 6-18-1906(a) and (b)." NLRSD and LRSD are under the same Desegregation Settlement Agreement, and yet NLRSD has always participated in School Choice, while LRSD has participated the past three years.
  7. If PCSSD wants to abide by the "exemption provision contained in Ark. Code Ann. 6-18-1906(a) and (b)," it is in violation, as it is required to declare exemption by April 1st if it intends to exempt for the following school year. PCSSD's last notification was April 20, 2015.
  8. For three years, the superintendent and attorneys for PCSSD could have asked Judge Marshall if the district is precluded from participating in School Choice. We believe they haven't because they don't want to participate, and therefore, are afraid of his answer. Why do we believe this?
    1. Six of the nine districts exempting from School Choice in Arkansas, including PCSSD, are represented by the same law firm, Allen P. Roberts, P.A. of Camden. Camden-Fairview School District also exempts.
    2. Two of the nine exempting districts (PCSSD, Camden-Fairview; three if you count JNPSD) have been led by the same superintendent, Dr. Jerry Guess, formerly of Camden.
    3. How many "Legal Transfers" did PCSSD approve to NLRSD in 2014-15?
    4. How many "Legal Transfers" did PCSSD approve to NLRSD in 2015-16?
    5. How many "Legal Transfers" has PCSSD approved to NLRSD for 2016-17?
    6. How many "Legal Transfers" did PCSSD approve to LRSD in 2014-15?
    7. How many "Legal Transfers" did PCSSD approve to LRSD in 2015-16?
    8. How many "Legal Transfers" has PCSSD approved to LRSD for 2016-17?
    9. How many "Legal Transfers" did PCSSD accept from NLRSD in 2014-15?
    10. How many "Legal Transfers" did PCSSD accept from NLRSD in 2015-16?
    11. How many "Legal Transfers" has PCSSD accepted from NLRSD for 2016-17?
    12. How many "Legal Transfers" did PCSSD accept from LRSD in 2014-15?
    13. How many "Legal Transfers" did PCSSD accept from LRSD in 2015-16?
    14. How many "Legal Transfers" has PCSSD accepted from LRSD for 2016-17?
    15. How many employees' student transfers did PCSSD accept from NLRSD in 2014-15?
    16. How many employees' student transfers did PCSSD accept from NLRSD in 2015-16?
    17. How many employees' student transfers did PCSSD accept from NLRSD in 2016-17?
    18. How many employees' student transfers did PCSSD accept from LRSD in 2014-15?
    19. How many employees' student transfers did PCSSD accept from LRSD in 2015-16?
    20. How many employees' student transfers did PCSSD accept from LRSD in 2016-17?

Last year's Attorney General's opinion said parents whose appeals are denied may seek relief in a court of competent jurisdiction. Over the past three years, the State Board of Education has had innumerable opportunities, outside of the emotion of School Choice appeals, to remove that burden of time and financial hardship from parents, and place responsibility squarely on the districts to seek judicial clarity on their choices.

But that presupposes that some members of the board aren't just as opposed to School Choice as the State's appointed superintendent.

Instead of constantly trotting out "John Walker" as "Boo Radley" to get their way and give cover for their decidedly anti-student positions, Dr. Guess and the board of the Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District, not their attorneys, should stand up and tell their constituents and the State Board exactly why they don't believe every student deserves the right to choose the public school which best suits their needs.

Hope remains for PCSSD, JNPSD and other exempting districts' parents as they bring future denial appeals before the State Board. Also, 100% of the students assigned to Academic Distress JNPSD Middle School and PCSSD Mills High School are eligible for Opportunity School Choice transfer to their non-Academic Distress school of choice by 7/30. And unlike Inter-district School Choice, those transfers will cost the resident districts up to $400 per student in transportation assistance. The same goes for 100% of the students in Academic Distress Dollarway, which like PCSSD, also exempts while under State control.

Instead of "John Walker" or "Lake View" or whatever "Boo Radley" they come up with next, the State better start worrying about the thousands of challenges looming by parents denied choice, particularly in districts under its control.

School Choice Application (Deadline 5/30)
Opportunity School Choice Application, Rules (Deadline 7/30) 

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Demand PCSSD, JNPSD Choose School Choice

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Friday, April 1, 2016
Updated: Saturday, April 9, 2016

Of the 237 school districts in Arkansas, 221 fully participate in inter-district School Choice, the right of parents/guardians, regardless of residence, to choose the public school(s) that best serve(s) the needs of their student(s).

Act 560, sponsored by Senator Alan Clark, the Public School Choice Act of 2015, requires that in order to exempt from interdistrict school choice, a district must:

"...submit proof from a federal court to the Department of Education that the school district has a genuine conflict under an active desegregation order or active court-approved desegregation plan with the interdistrict school choice provisions of this subchapter."

While the seven school districts of Garland County have been directed by a U.S. District Judge not to participate, nine districts, including the Pulaski County Special and the new Jacksonville/North Pulaski School Districts, are inappropriately exempting from the law. In fact, PCSSD, JNPSD and Dollarway, are the only three districts among the 12-county Metro Little Rock Alliance to exempt, which puts individuals, families, communities and the region at an economic disadvantage.

Meanwhile, a U.S. District Judge recently ruled that Forrest City had no basis to exempt, while Blytheville has chosen to participate as a condition for accreditation.

One man, Superintendent Dr. Jerry Guess, chooses to exempt PCSSD from inter-district School Choice, even though the district has been declared unitary in regard to student assignment by U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall, Jr.

Unfortunately, the new Jacksonville/North Pulaski Special District has chosen to follow the lead of PCSSD, rather than NLRSD and LRSD, which fully participate and benefit from choice.

Whether you live in one of the districts and would choose to enroll in another, or live in another and would choose to enroll in PCSSD or JNPSD, please share with the respective superintendent and board what full participation in inter-district School Choice would mean to your student(s), family and community.

Click here, complete the fields, and submit to directly share your story with Dr. Guess, the JNPSD board, and other interested policy makers. Users are limited to one message per day.

Meanwhile, to ensure that you and your student(s) do not miss your opportunity, complete and submit the School Choice Application by May 1, 2016 to the school district(s) of your choice, including PCSSD and JNPSD, in hopes that the superintendent and/or board reverse their decisions.

Here are the nine school districts in Arkansas which inappropriately exempt from school choice, hyperlinked to their claimed conflicting federal court orders:

If you would like to launch, support a campaign(s) to convince any of the aforementioned districts to choose choice, contact Gary Newton, gnewton@arkansaslearns.org.

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Crisis in Little Rock: 5,000 Students South of Arkansas River Eligible for Opportunity School Choice Transfer

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Wednesday, March 30, 2016
Updated: Saturday, April 2, 2016

Little Rock is in crisis.

By July 30th of this year, nearly 5,000 public secondary students south of the Arkansas River have a right, by Opportunity School Choice law and rule, to transfer to the non-Academic Distress school of their choosing for the 2016-17 school year.

The crisis? There is zero non-Academic Distress capacity in the Little Rock School District, as Central and Parkview High Schools are at 170% and 103% capacity, respectively.

It's worse among the middle schools, as non-Academic Distress Forest Heights STEM Grades 6-8 are at 198% capacity, Pulaski Heights is 150%, Dunbar is 127%, Mann is 121%, and Mabelvale is 106%. Even Academic Distress Cloverdale and Henderson are at 103 and 102% capacity, respectively.

With over 8,000 on their combined wait lists, eStem Public Charter Schools and LISA Academy are full as well.

The only capacity south of the river is at Pulaski County Special School District Fuller Middle School and Robinson High and Middle Schools. However, because Superintendent Dr. Jerry Guess has been allowed to unilaterally exempt from school choice, Robinson is only available to Opportunity School Choice transfers from Mills.

The only new seats scheduled to open in the Little Rock School District for 2016 are 150-200 for sixth grade in the Leisure Arts-converted West Little Rock Middle School. But with a combined 253 fifth graders at feeder Roberts, Fulbright and Terry Elementary Schools, it is doubtful any of those seats will be available.

That leaves only other school districts such as North Little Rock, Benton or Bryant as Opportunity School Choice options, but only if they have capacity.

Imagine the optics: the Little Rock School District's paying another school district up to $400 per student to transport resident students out of their neighborhoods, district and city, and into another.

Even worse, picture those with both a desire and legal right to transfer who are denied, because there is simply no room. Why? Because two State-run school districts have not met demand when and where it exists.

But it doesn't have to be that way. Late in the evening of Thursday, March 31st, the State Board of Education wisely affirmed plans to expand two public schools. Between them, new non-Academic Distress seats will open in 2016 at 12200 Westhaven Drive, in 2017 at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and in 2018 on Shall Avenue in Little Rock's East Village.

Now that the State Board has affirmed these approved expansions, we implore its members to create a sense of urgency in the Little Rock and Pulaski County Special School Districts to prioritize individual student-centered academic performance and growth, and match or exceed the charters' expansions over the next three years, through collaborative, consolidated, converted and constructed facilities, complemented by inter- and intra-district school choice.

In the ten years between censuses, Cabot grew 54%, Benton 36%, Conway and Bryant 35%. By contrast, Little Rock only grew 6% and North Little Rock 3%, while Jacksonville declined 7%.

Yes, Little Rock, indeed Pulaski County, is in crisis. But the Board's actions on Thursday, while only a start, must be an empowering catalyst to grow public traditional and charter school seats to finally meet decades of pent up demand.

As always, may the immediate best interests of students, families, the community, region and state guide decisions to ensure excellent education options for all students, no matter their culture, economic status or ZIP Code.

A start would be demanding School Choice in PCSSD. To do that...

Opportunity School Choice Rules, Application (Deadline July 30, 2016)

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Wanting an LRSD, PCSSD South-of-River Plan? Here's a Baker's Dozen Start

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Wednesday, March 23, 2016
Updated: Friday, April 1, 2016

For those wanting a "plan" before leading in/collaborating between the Little Rock and Pulaski County Special School Districts south of the river, here's a simple, elegant, easily understood start, which doesn't have to wait on PCSSD unitary status. Call it...a Baker's Dozen:

  1. Compel PCSSD to participate in School Choice, which would open flow, choice of students among all four districts in Pulaski County. LRSD, NLRSD, JNPSD are among 215 districts in Arkansas which fully participate in/benefit from choice. While PCSSD has been declared unitary in regard to student assignment, Dr. Guess unilaterally chooses to deny entry to and/or exit from his district. School Choice Application deadline is May 1, 2016.

  2. Implement NWEA MAP formative testing for the 2016 school year, to a) assess individual student performance, b) immediately address needs, and c) measure growth. Utilized by all open-enrollment charters in the county, NWEA MAP would also provide an apples-to-apples comparison of student performance/growth locally, statewide and nationally.
     
  3. Collaborate, partner with PCSSD to convert Robinson Middle and High Schools to all High School. Collaborate on new Mills High and Fuller Middle. Inter-district collaboration, partnership need not wait on PCSSD unitary status.

  4. Fast track conversion of new West Little Rock Middle School, construction of new SWLR High School. Once opened, convert or convey McClellan and Fair.
     
  5. Consolidate, close, convert, construct existing schools proximate to current/projected population
     
  6. Abolish all middle, high school attendance zones. Instead use elementary feeders as Mr. Kurrus has proposed with new WLR Middle.

  7. Collaborate with Rock Region Metro to make every secondary school efficiently accessible and provide student passes to all secondary school students so they may attend any school of choice with capacity. LRSD currently spends $17,000,000 annually on 5,000,000 transportation miles.

  8. Constantly collaborate with open-enrollment public charters, using advantage of scale to be a paid provider of services and infrastructure. Implement a unified enrollment system for all public schools and create a portfolio approach to education in Little Rock.

  9. Bring true career-ready tech education, with national certifications and concurrent credit, to each high school, constantly aligning offerings with needs of industry, which will lead in hiring instructors, evaluating performance.

  10. Guarantee that all children, not encumbered by intellectual disability, will read at grade level by end of third grade, utilizing early identification, maximized classroom resources, longer school days and longer school year. No child will be promoted if not at/above level. Administer triage to older students not reading at level and administer required intervention to catch them up. If you don't learn to read, you can't read to learn.

  11. Retain, return, recruit best available talent, and remove/retire all others, constantly matching talent needs with priorities of organization. Create building-level autonomy in management, including finance and hiring/firing. Create constant succession plans, including superintendent.

  12. Offer merit pay for all employees based on individual/collective student growth.

  13. Seek, receive all waivers granted to open-enrollment public charters, so there are no excuses for lack of performance.

The unanimously approved State Board of Education Pulaski County Boundaries Report called for one district south of the river and up to four north, once PCCSD achieves unitary status and Maumelle and Sherwood create districts of their own. The reason for the unitary status stipulation is that PCSSD and Intervening Attorney John Walker got it added to the latest Desegregation Settlement Agreement as a condition of Settlement. However, inter-district collaboration and partnership need not wait on unitary status.

As with economic development regionalism, the County Judge, Regional Chamber, Metroplan, Rock Region Metro and other big picture groups and individuals must lead on this and be truly collaborative, instead of deferring to whoever is in the respective superintendents' offices. Districts, like cities, will always be narrowly focused unless pulled into the region's holistic and complementary public education portfolio.

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