The Little Rock School District is continuing to host community meetings regarding possible school closures, but critics are concerned the decisions have already been made.
Five schools in LRSD are being considered for closure in a proposal by superintendent Michael Poore. Three community meetings to gather public feedback on the proposal were hosted before Thanksgiving, and four more are on the schedule before the district closes for the winter holiday.
Opponents of the school closures include state Senator Joyce Elliott. Four of the schools suggested for closure are in her district. She says the process has been rushed and lacks reasonable channels for public input.
“Usually one would come in and try to get the lay of land and learn the culture, learn about the people, learn the history, learn what it means to make big decisions like this and how it fits into historical perspectives and the impact it might have going forward before taking such drastic measures,” said Elliott.
Poore was hired to lead the district in June after working in Bentonville for five years. Prior to his time in Bentonville he spent over 20 years as an educator and administrator in Colorado. As a deputy superintendent in a Colorado Springs school district he oversaw a process that resulted in school closures.
“We try to pride ourselves in public schools to have parents and students love their schools, whether that’s Colorado Springs, or Little Rock, or some other community. Most of the time people are satisfied with their local school and so when you try to do something different with that entity it’s challenging,” said Poore.
The Little Rock School District was taken over by the state in January of 2015 after six of its 48 schools failed to meet state academic standards. None of the schools which resulted in the district’s low academic rating are being considered for closure. Elliott is concerned that budgetary concerns are taking priority over harder to quantify concerns such as quality of life in the communities of the proposed school closures.
“I think if there’s a middle ground we need to start with the notion that we don’t need to destabilize neighborhoods. I think everybody could agree to that,” said Elliot. “And if we don’t need to destabilize neighborhoods then lets not start closing schools, which will do exactly that.”
Lowered property values in surrounding communities are cited as one of the negative impacts of closing schools. 25 of Little Rock’s religious leaders recently voiced their opposition to the school closings in a letter to Johnny Key, the commissioner of the state’s department of education.
Poore encouraged people to attend any of the upcoming meetings to voice their concerns and share ideas. Meetings will be held from 6-7:30 p.m. at the following locations: Monday, Nov. 28 at Fulbright Elementary; Tuesday, Nov. 29 at Henderson Middle School; Thursday, Dec. 1 at Greater Second Baptist Church; Tuesday, Dec. 6 at Southwest Community Center.