Historic mayoral election
Frank Scott Jr. was elected Little Rock mayor Dec. 4. The 35-year-old banker, associate pastor and ex-state Highway Commissioner is the first popularly elected black mayor in a city that's struggled to escape the legacy of the 1957 Central High crisis. Scott defeated Baker Kurrus 58-42 percent in a runoff.
Scott started his victory speech by saying, "First, I just want to say, it is good to see Little Rock right now. It's good to see every race, every culture, every faith, every sexual orientation, every gender identity — because this is all about unifying our city." He said his campaign wasn't just about unification; it was also about "securing our communities" and "making certain we get our school board back yesterday."
Scott has said he plans to ask the city Board of Directors to change Little Rock's form of government to make him a "strong" mayor to whom the city manager answers and to move away from at-large board positions. If the board isn't willing to make those changes, Scott has said he will call for a referendum.
LRSD teachers in state crosshairs
State Board of Education member Diane Zook will move to eliminate the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act and Public School Employee Fair Hearing Act for all Little Rock School District employees at the board's Dec. 13 meeting. The Arkansas Times obtained a copy of her motion and notes regarding it. The move would make LRSD teachers unique among traditional public school teachers in Arkansas in lacking basic due process rights that have been enshrined in state law since 1979. Zook's motion would make the waiver effective immediately and extend through the 2019-20 school year.
The state took over the LRSD in 2015, and, by law, must return it to local control within five years. Also in her notes, Zook writes, "We need all administrators (central office and building level system wide) evaluated." That suggests she may want the state board to micromanage staffing at the district.
The Arkansas Educational Support and Accountability Act (Act 930), an update of state education accountability standards passed by the legislature in 2017, gives the state board wide latitude to waive education laws in districts that are classified as in Level 5 Intensive Support, as the LRSD is.
The fair dismissal act has been in the crosshairs for weeks now. In October, Education Commissioner Johnny Key, who acts as the school board for the LRSD while the district is under state control, rejected a new contract between the district and the Little Rock Education Association, which was negotiating on behalf of teachers. Key said he wouldn't agree to a new professional negotiated agreement unless the LREA agreed to allow for the waiver of the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act in the 22 schools in the LRSD that received a "D" or "F" grade under the state's new accountability system, which is based largely on standardized testing. Key said the district needed "greater flexibility" to fire teachers at the so-called "D" and "F" schools. But when pressed, he could not provide examples of instances in which the LRSD was unable to fire teachers because of the fair dismissal law.
On Nov. 13, Key and the teachers' union came to a new contract agreement. It acknowledged that the LRSD could seek waivers from the state board, including eliminating the fair dismissal law, but added some due process protections that would go into effect if the state moved to waive the fair dismissal law.
D-G to stop weekday distribution in 25 counties
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette will stop distributing print editions of all but the Sunday newspaper in five South Arkansas counties beginning Feb. 11, general manager Lynn Hamilton confirmed in a phone interview. The D-G's subscribers will instead be provided with iPads to access the digital version of the paper and taught how to use them.
The move will put an end to home delivery and "single copy outlet" distribution in El Dorado, Camden, Magnolia and surrounding areas six days a week. That means the statewide daily paper will no longer be available for purchase at coin-operated boxes or at retailers (such as gas stations or grocery stores) in the five-county area. The Sunday edition will continue to be distributed both to home subscribers and to retailers.
The D-G has already substituted iPads for home delivery service in about 20 counties in East and North Arkansas, Hamilton explained. The five counties in South Arkansas represent a similar but distinct experiment in cutting distribution costs and shifting to digital. In the East and North Arkansas counties, the D-G has stopped home delivery entirely — including on Sundays — but it continues to distribute the paper to retail stores and newspaper boxes seven days a week.
"We're testing digital delivery in a couple different methods in counties remote from Central Arkansas," Hamilton said. "We picked those regions because they're the furthest from Little Rock and the most expensive for us to deliver a printed paper."
Its distribution in the rest of the state, including Northwest Arkansas, will remain unchanged.