After a divisive ballot item to extend a Little Rock School District millage tax to fund facility improvements was handily rejected by voters Tuesday, state and city leaders are offering different views about what should happen next. Local activists who campaigned against the millage extension in the state-controlled district gathered near Little Rock’s Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary a day after the vote offering a renewed call to action.
“The people united will never be defeated,” the group chanted.
The activists said the defeat of the millage extension should send a message to the State Board of Education to establish a date for local school board elections to take place. Democratic State Sen. Linda Chesterfield also suggested that leaders up the chain of command should listen.
“It is important that the governor understands: your voice did not prevail on this issue, governor. Commissioner Key, your voice did not prevail on this issue. State Board of Education, your voice did not prevail on this issue,” she said
Chesterfield was one of nine Democratic Little Rock state legislators who released a joint statement after the vote calling for local school board elections to be held before the end of the year. State Education Commissioner Johnny Key has thus far announced no plans to do so. Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who appointed Key, also suggested to reporters that there are no immediate plans for that to happen.
“I’ve said that as soon as we can I want to be able to turn [the district] back to local control, but we have a responsibility as a state to assure that there is a strong education performance in our school systems and that’s what we’re going to continue to do every day,” he said.
The governor said ultimately, it’s a determination for the State Board of Education. The board voted to take over the district in January 2015 because it deemed six schools of the district’s more than 40 schools to be in “academic distress.” That list has since been cut by half because of improving test scores.
Little Rock School Superintendent Mike Poore, who pushed for the millage to finance facility improvements, has said plans to build a new southwest Little Rock high school could now be delayed for at least a year because of Tuesday’s election result.