Columns » Max Brantley

For the teachers and for Kurrus

Events in the Little Rock School District prompt me to say more about the Little Rock mayor's race in favor of Baker Kurrus.

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Events in the Little Rock School District prompt me to say more about the Little Rock mayor's race in favor of Baker Kurrus.

Governor Hutchinson and his education commissioner, Johnny Key, want to break the Little Rock teachers union to satisfy the Billionaire Boys Club seeking to upend public education in the state.

The first, failed idea was to disqualify the union for lack of sufficient members in the district. Now the ploy is to demand a waiver of the law that requires documenting shortcomings of teachers and making efforts to improve them before firing. Key, the Little Rock School Board for four years in takeover, proposes to waive this rule only for teachers in the Terrible 22, schools in Little Rock with D and F grades on a scale driven by standardized test scores.

Key and Hutchinson have given the Little Rock Education Association a two-week extension on the contract that expired this week to negotiate further, but they've given no indication of any willingness to compromise. The union can accept loss of a hard-won state law for teachers in certain schools or it can give up entirely its role as a representative for teachers.

Moving the union out will better facilitate the billionaires' long-desired privatization of the Little Rock School District. It's already underway with proliferating charters that are leaching better students, promoting segregation and draining LRSD resources.

Which brings up the mayor's race. One man in the field of five stood up and was counted during the school district takeover engineered by a Little Rock business community wanting to shed the majority-black school board. That was Baker Kurrus.

He spent a year of heroic duty as school superintendent, fired when he spoke the truth to Johnny Key about the damaging impact of unchecked charter school growth. Key couldn't stand the truth and fired Kurrus.

The mayor can't do much directly for Little Rock schools, but a well-informed, courageous advocate can hold the state to account and must if the city is to be saved. Past city leadership has failed. Kurrus will exhaust himself trying.

He stood out last week in the statement he issued after news broke of Key's decision to open teachers to mass firings. (These summary firings would happen only in 22 Little Rock schools — not coincidentally all with poor, minority student bodies — though 180 other schools statewide have similar grades.)

Kurrus responded methodically. He noted Key's trust-destroying 11th-hour decision to reject an agreement that was the product of months of negotiation and was supported by the nominal district leader, Michael Poore. He commented:

"The state has been in control of LRSD for almost four years. During this period Little Rock has lost students to new schools in our community which have either been started or expanded with the state's permission. If the students who left were higher performing, the average scores of the remaining students were driven down by this state action, at the time when the state itself was in control. It would also be helpful to know the academic achievement levels of students who left LRSD, but then transferred back to LRSD because the competing schools were not accommodating the special needs of these students.

"This basic conflict of interest needs to be addressed, or at least accounted for. It would be helpful now to know these facts, which are available to the state.

"I would urge the commissioner to step back from his demand and provide more information which would allow the community to understand the reasoning and purposes behind his action. I would also urge that the deadline of Oct. 31 be extended so that the teachers in all of Little Rock's schools are not forced to defend the basic rights which have been afforded to all teachers in traditional public schools in our state for many years. If a major change in state law is needed, it would appear that the legislature should take up the matter, so that any change would apply equally to all schools which are similarly situated, rather than just to schools in LRSD."

That's a leader. I wish he was still superintendent of Little Rock schools. But his talents are well-suited for city hall, too.

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