The Arkansas State Board of Education will take over and run the Little Rock school district after voting on Wednesday to dissolve the school board immediately but keep the current superintendent in his job for now.
The vote in favor of the state takeover came after a special meeting lasting more than four hours in which dozens of legislators, parents, students, and community members testified both for and against state intervention.
The board considered two competing proposals on the extent of state involvement in Little Rock, where six of the district’s 48 schools—one elementary, two middle, and three high schools—have been declared to be in academic distress because fewer than half of the students were deemed proficient on state tests. According to the Associated Press, nearly 45 percent of the district’s students attend schools that are deemed to be “underperforming.”
The losing proposal, which was defeated by a 5-4 vote, called for a memorandum of understanding between the district and the state, in a partnership agreement that would have kept the board and superintendent in place but committed the district to meeting specific benchmarks. If the district did not meet those benchmarks, the state had the option to then take over the district.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette quoted Board Chairman Sam Ledbetter, who provided the tie-breaking vote in both cases as saying: “At some point you just have to go in a new direction.”
The takeover of the state’s largest school district of 25,000 students is significant as it comes nearly a year after the state supreme court approved an agreement between the state and several Little Rock-area school systems to end aid to those districts aimed at improving integration.
The payments, made since 1989 and totaling nearly $1 billion over the years, stemmed from a 1982 lawsuit. The Little Rock district sued the state alleging that state policies were still facilitating racial imbalance in the district long after the 1957 integration of the city’s Central High School when nine black students had to be escorted to school by federal troops.
The desegregation aid supported programs such as magnet schools and busing as a way to achieve more racial balance.
Under Wednesday’s vote, Superintendent Dexter Suggs will remain as “interim” superintendent in charge, but he will now report to the Arkansas Department of Education.
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.