State Education Commissioner Johnny Key has approved Little Rock School District Superintendent Michael Poore’s proposal to close three schools and repurpose a fourth. A group of community activists and parents, meanwhile, is condemning the decision.
The plan calls for the closure of Franklin Elementary, Wilson Elementary and the Woodruff Early Childhood Center. Under the plan, the alternative school Hamilton Learning Academy would move to the Wilson campus.
Poore, who was appointed to his position by the state last year, has argued the closures are necessary to reduce expenditures. The district is planning to cut costs by about $11 million next school year. After a 2014 federal court settlement on desegregation, the district is facing the total loss of roughly $37 million in annual funding. The district’s budget is more than $300 million
About 800 of the district’s 24,000 students currently attend the affected schools.
The plans have drawn the ire of parents and community groups who say the school closures will be a drain on certain low-income, predominantly black neighborhoods. They also challenge the state’s authority in the matter and say these decisions should be made on a local level. The group called Save Our Schools gathered outside Franklin Elementary on Friday to protest the decision. In a statement, they said they “wholeheartedly reject” the action taken by Key and Poore.
The LRSD has been under state control for more than two years, after the State Board of Education deemed six of its more than 40 schools to be in academic distress. Since that time, three of the schools have been removed from the distressed list, including two just this week, J.A. Fair and McClellan High Schools.
You can listen to audio from some of the protest’s speakers below.
Below is audio of State Education Commissioner Johnny Key reading a statement on his acceptance of the closure and budget cut plan at the State Board of Education meeting on Thursday.