Little Rock School District, teachers' union reach agreement
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Little Rock School District and the district's teachers' union agreed Tuesday to a contract through October 2019 after weeks of disagreement and tense negotiations.
The agreement came one day before the current contract was set to expire and was ratified unanimously by union members.
The contract contains language which says the education department can petition the state for a waiver that would make it easier to fire teachers in poorly performing schools.
Last month, Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key rejected a tentative agreement because the contract did not include language for the waiver. As the contract expiration date approached, both sides agreed to a two-week negotiation extension, which was set to expire Wednesday night. Little Rock School District has been under state control since 2015 because of low test scores in some schools.
The union agreed to the contract largely because the state could apply for the waiver regardless of whether the contract allowed it, said Little Rock Education Association President Teresa Knapp Gordon.
In a statement, Key called the agreement a "win for students." He underscored his support for a waiver, which would apply to teachers in Little Rock schools that the state has rated "D'' or "F."
The contract also includes a clause which stipulates the Arkansas State Teacher Excellence Support System should be used to support teachers, and which provides "clear expectations on performance" which are consistent for all teachers.
Both Key and Gordon said they supported including the support system clause in the contract.
Gordon said an important objective for union members was the inclusion of a due-process clause, which says no disciplinary action can be taken against an employee without "just cause." Minor offenses can result in a variety of disciplinary actions before termination, though employees can be immediately fired for "serious professional competency deficiencies or misconduct."
The agreement also gives the Little Rock Education Association sole representation rights in the district.
Because contract negotiations were so contentious this year, the new agreement says the current contract will apply while negotiations next year continue.
Gordon said negotiations nearly broke down on Monday. Both sides agreed to take a break and resume the next day, and by Tuesday evening a deal was reached.