An Open Letter to Our LRSD Members
posted by: Melissa | October 29, 2018, 07:45 PM   

Dear Arkansas State Teachers Association (ASTA) members serving in the Little Rock School District (LRSD),

I want to discuss with you a development in the negotiations between the Little Rock Education Association (LREA) and LRSD, including addressing some misinformation and providing some helpful context.

Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Johnny Key has requested a waiver of the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act (TFDA) process for the 22 schools rated “D” or “F” in LRSD. TFDA mandates a more thorough process to dismiss certified staff, including teachers, counselors, and principals. Commissioner Key has argued that the district, which has been controlled by the state since 2015 due to low test scores, needs greater flexibility to make staff changes. All districts have this option and several large districts have this waiver in place.

LRSD has a distinguished history of educating courageous students to be positive change makers in our society. The Little Rock Nine, General Wesley Clark, Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson, Senator Mark Pryor, numerous accomplished authors, athletes, politicians, entrepreneurs, musicians, and public servants are all proud products of LRSD. LRSD educators should be supremely proud of this legacy as they concentrate on making the future possible for tens of thousands of Little Rock students.

Despite numerous talented educators and staff—and I’ve met too many to count—committed to continuing this legacy, LRSD continues to struggle to educate and serve Little Rock students adequately. Regardless of how we measure school quality, educators know in their hearts when a school is teeming with success or struggling to meet a basic promise to students. A struggling school is a challenging school in which to serve each day and poor leadership only makes the situation worse. However, it is crystal clear in my experience of working with our LRSD ASTA members – you love and care for your students deeply and want the very best for them. Kids are why you step in that school building each day.

For more than three decades, over $37 million dollars per year, above and beyond what has been allocated to other Arkansas districts, was provided to LRSD for improvement efforts. We must acknowledge neither additional money nor union priorities have unleashed systemic success in LRSD. In fact, the union’s continued promotion of its political agenda during an election year further complicates the conversation, cultivating an adversarial environment at a time when educators and students need support and solutions. The union’s predictable response to Commissioner Key’s proposal and efforts to aid their favored politicians win elections are other examples of the same adverse practice.

Leadership capacity determines the effectiveness of TFDA. Competent administrators have the desire, skills, and expertise to support and provide resources to grow educators and make appropriate employment decisions, which is essentially the TFDA process. The truth is the steps in TFDA can help protect a teacher from wrongful dismissal and protect a school district from making a poor decision, but it depends on the leadership and how those representing educators and administration through the process conduct themselves.

From my experience leading ASTA’s legal support and employment rights defense each year to many of our thousands of members across the state, I’ve seen TFDA prevent a school district from making a mistake about dismissing a teacher. Through TFDA, the school resolved the issue in a way that was best for students, and that teacher found success. I’ve seen a school district dismiss a teacher in spite of TFDA steps; the law allowed for a fair process. I’ve also seen a school district struggle to remove an unconstructive school leader because of the limitations of TFDA. Everyone knew what the outcome was going to be but it had to be expensive and time- consuming, something that hurts the rest of the staff not to mention the students.

If TFDA remains in place it is not a guarantee the school district will only make wise termination decisions. If TFDA is waived, it is not a certainty the school district will make only poor termination decisions. Commissioner Key is on record stating a TFDA waiver will be a “scalpel” not a “chainsaw” rejecting union predictions of mass firings. Either way there are other processes and protections remaining to protect against discrimination, hostile work environments, harassment, and more.

I strongly recommend school leaders follow the elements of TFDA to provide support and resources for educators to grow and learn—we are on the same team, working together for student achievement. For example, provide clear and timely resources to improve and notices of disciplinary or investigatory actions and agree to hearing requests when taking action against a certified staffer. Not because of any entitlement or law, but because dismissal decisions are complex and those added steps can protect a school district from missing systemic issues and losing talented staff —including the colleagues of the dismissed who may voluntarily leave as a results of an unjustifiable decision.

As for the current situation in LRSD, it is concerning to me that so much time, energy, and resources are being spent promoting a partisan political agenda. I share the frustration of educators who doubt if the union can ever lead a non-adversarial and professional conversation among teachers, principals, and school districts.

Ultimately the decision regarding TFDA is up to LREA and LRSD. ASTA will be there to support members either way.

ASTA is the authentic voice for educators. If there is anything we can pass along to LRSD leadership, please let us know. I have heard from several of you who are concerned with how teachers are supported or evaluated as well as how or why poor performing administrators and colleagues are retained or even promoted. Because of you, our input is valued and we are in regular communication with District leadership and Commissioner Key as they strive to make decisions they feel is best for students.

ASTA will continue to be a professional and authentic voice for its membership in a manner that is student- oriented while elevating the profession we love and to which have dedicated ourselves.


Michele Ballentine-Linch, PhD Executive Director

Arkansas State Teachers Association 225 S. Pulaski, Suite 200

Little Rock, AR 72201 Tel: 877-742-ASTA (2782)

Cell: 501-766-3931

Fax: 501-400-8276


P.S. Let your colleagues know about your professional association, how for $16.50 per month you have a

$2,000,000 liability insurance policy that includes job protection benefits.

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