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State seeks to break agreement with LRSD teachers

Also, Inman left off the ballot and marijuana scoring progress.

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Inman left off

Early voting in Arkansas began Oct. 22. When polls opened, the Garland County Election Commission had left Susan Inman, the Democratic candidate for secretary of state, off the election ballot.

Gene Haley, chairman of the election commission, said officials discovered last week during a testing process that not all primary election winners had transferred electronically to the general election ballot. So, some omissions had to be re-entered by hand. In the process, Inman's name was left off. Her Republican candidates' name was misspelled — John "Thurnston" instead of Thurston.

A voter intending to vote for Inman noticed the omission at 8:15 a.m. Oct. 22 and notified officials, who immediately halted voting until the error could be fixed, Haley said. But 222 ballots were completed by then. The full ballot was later restored.

There's no corrective for ballots cast before the error was fixed. Election officials note that voters are warned not to cast ballots until they are sure they've made correct choices.

Marijuana scoring progress

Public Consulting Group, the company hired by the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission to evaluate dispensary applications, said it will try to provide results to the commission within the 30 days agreed after receipt of the applications — by mid-November or late November at the latest.

First, however, PCG must train a team of scorers, who will grade independently, so that their evaluations of application components will be consistent, manager Thomas Aldridge told the commission. It will be up to the commission to review the aggregate scores for location — 32 dispensaries will be divided up in eight regions — and award bonus points based on the rubric.

Commission Chairwoman Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman objected strongly to the lack of a physician on the scoring team that PCG has assembled: "industry experts" in government regulation, cannabis, pharmacy, law and a nurse. Henry-Tillman said dispensaries should be evaluated as to knowledge of how to dispense medical marijuana appropriate to the disease process. She said the rubric for applicants requires dispensaries to be educated on what to do when an applicant comes in with one of the qualifying diseases. She said a nurse evaluation would be "unacceptable."

Commissioner James Miller, who participated in the meeting by conference call, asked Aldridge why the company's bid was so low. Aldridge responded that PCG, which largely works with health and human service organizations on Medicaid issues, believed working with Arkansas was an "opportunity to see how we can go in and be helpful. ... We also might use this as a jumping-off point for other projects. We have no intention of making a lot of money on this contract." Instead, it is a project that would help PCG establish a "footprint" in the cannabis business.

State seeks to break agreement with LRSD teachers

Citing low scores on many Little Rock School District schools' standardized test, State Education Commissioner Johnny Key, who acts as district school board under state control, has rejected a new negotiating agreement with the Little Rock Education Association. He wants a change that would allow an end to fair dismissal protection for teachers at schools with D and F grades. There are 16 schools with D grades among the LRSD's 46 schools and 7 with Fs. In a notice distributed by Key, he said the LRSD "needs this greater flexibility to make staffing changes in struggling schools" than what the existing negotiating agreement provides.

The Little Rock Education Association responded sharply in a news release. "Even murderers receive due process," the release said and hinted at action to come.

The teachers object that they are being held responsible for low grades in 22 schools though principals at 11 of those schools have not changed in the four years since the state took over the district" In the release, LREA President Teresa Knapp Gordon also faulted the state for a lack of assistance in the district while it approved charter schools that drained students and resources.

The LREA also raised the question of where new teachers would come from amid a national teacher shortage if the district embarks on mass firings, without normal due process under the teacher fair dismissal act as Key proposes, for alleged responsibility for low scores in schools with D and F grades.

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