FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The agenda for the Little Rock School Board meeting tonight includes a vote on a one-time “covid-19 additional compensation” payment for employees and a discussion on lengthening the school day for elementary pupils.
Not on the agenda is any action on discussing or scheduling a special election in September to extend a 12.4 debt service mills as a way to raise $200 million or more for school construction and repairs. District leaders recently indicated to School Board members a preference for waiting to have the election in November.
The nine-member School Board will meet in person with district staff members at 5:30 p.m. Out of caution related to the covid-19 pandemic, however, public participation in the meeting or viewing of the meeting must be done remotely using any number of online and television platforms.
The district is proposing an $11-a-day payment for eligible employees in recognition of their extra work during a global pandemic
“For the past 12 months, our LRSD employees have been on the front-lines of our District, either providing a meaningful education experience or ensuring that our buildings were clean and safe for our students and colleagues,” Superintendent Mike Poore and Robert Robinson, the executive director of human resources, wrote to the board members in support of the payment.
The proposal will cost the district an estimated $7.1 million and, when fringe benefits are added to that, will total about $8.74 million.
“LRSD believes that the additional compensation is warranted because our personnel has consistently provided onsite instruction and support, even when other school districts around the country were closed to onsite instruction,” Poore and Robinson wrote.
For most teachers, who have 190-day contracts, the pandemic compensation will be $2,090.
One exception to that will be nearly 70 teachers who declined to work on-campus one day last fall because of safety concerns. They will not get the $11 a day for the one missed day — although they did work remotely. Nor will they get the $11 for the up to six days they were suspended and docked pay.
If approved by the board, the payments to employees — including support staff members — will be paid by June 30. The payments are made possible by the federal covid-19 relief funding to the state and district. The Little Rock district is anticipating as much as $90 million from the three rounds of federal funding approved by Congress and Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden in 2020 and earlier this year.
“Our employees are excited about being paid for the extra work they have done throughout the school year,” Teresa Knapp Gordon, president of the Little Rock Education Association that represents teachers and support staff in the district, said this week. “They deserve a lot more than $11 per day, but that is what was decided upon.” It will begin with the first day of the employee’s contract, which varies widely starting from July 1.
On the other hand, Gordon, a library media specialist at Romine Elementary, is displeased with the district’s proposal to the School Board to lengthen the elementary school day.
“Little Rock Education Association will strongly encourage the School Board to reject this proposal and to direct the administration to revisit it with the inclusion of educators next year,” Gordon said in a prepared statement.
Darian Smith, the district’s executive director of elementary education, has submitted a proposal to the School Board calling for all elementary schools to start the instructional day at 8 a.m. and dismiss pupils at 3 p.m. with teachers’ contracted day being 7:45 a.m. until 3:45 p.m.
“The additional time will enhance our instructional day, support quality instruction, and the professional learning community collaborative time, while meeting the individual [teacher] planning time requirements,” Smith wrote to the board.
The proposal states that the change in school opening and dismissal times would increase the number of instructional minutes from 370 to 435, or an increase of 65 minutes — all without changing the current contract time for teachers.
The teacher contract time is where the dispute between the district and the employee association is centered. The district says that teacher contract time is supposed to be seven hours and 30 minutes with a 30-minute unpaid lunch — although the practice has been a six hour-and-50-minute workday with a 30-minute unpaid lunch.
The proposal says that the Little Rock district has the “shortest elementary instructional day in the county and state.
Gordon in her statement called the comparison to instructional time in other elementary schools “completely false,” and she said the seven hour and 30 minute day has “neither been past practice nor has it ever been in writing in contracts or other policies.”
She also said 7.5 hours per day is not developmentally appropriate for elementary-age children.
“Doing this type of thing does not indicate appreciation,” Gordon said about the district’s view of teachers. “It indicates a need to control and force changes from the top down. The wording of this proposal sends a clear message that the administration does not believe the educators are working hard enough or long enough, especially in elementary,” Gordon said.
The Little Rock district has opened tonight’s meeting to public comment on four action items: 1.) Additional Compensation Pay Proposal; 2.) Personnel Recommendations; 3.) Assurances for federal IV B Funds, and 4.) Contract for the Lexia supplemental reading program.
The meeting may be viewed via:
• livestream from the district’s website
• LRSD’s YouTube page, lrsdlive.com
• Television on Comcast Channel 4 and U-verse Channel 99
Members of the public can submit comments up until 1 p.m. today using the form here: https://bit.ly/3eMrpmV
Those who want to provide live comments on the Zoom meeting platform must use the same form as above and they will be contacted with the Zoom link before the start of the meeting, and admitted during the public-comment portion at their turn to speak. There will be a 3-minute limit.
Mailed comments to the board should be addressed to: Little Rock School District, Attention: Public Comment for Board Meeting, 810 W. Markham St., Little Rock, AR 72201.