Union Priorities: Self Interests of Adults Over Best Interests of Students

Nearly five years ago, we posted this:

“Four months into his tenure as the 20th (non-interim) superintendent in 31 years of the Little Rock School District, Dr. Dexter Suggs received a vote of “No Confidence” from the Little Rock Education Association (LREA). The vote came during a stalemate in contract negotiations just months after the union had joined parent, citizen, business and civic leaders in supporting Dr. Suggs’ selection by a 6 -1 board vote.”

No Confidence? When Union Votes on Superintendent, Who Votes on Union

Dr. Suggs was the courageous leader who kicked John Walker out of schools and converted Forest Heights from a failed middle school to a desired ‘A’ K-8 STEM Academy with a wait list. He was credited by the previous Attorney General as the catalyst for the 2014 Desegregation Settlement Agreement, and he was run out of town by Little Rock’s politically motivated status quo, which attempted to destroy his credibility by accusing him of plagiarism on his doctoral dissertation. Note to those purveyors of politics of personal destruction: he has his doctorate.

Then and now, when the union doesn’t get its way, instead of reasonably negotiating/debating the issue(s), it attacks its opponent(s).

Perhaps the reason the union is so aggressively fighting Commissioner Key’s recommended waiver on “Teacher Fair Dismissal” for D and F schools is that it has never valued new teachers. If it did, there is no reasonable explanation as to why the richest school district in Arkansas history ranks 72nd in starting teacher salaries:

  • $34,865 – Little Rock School District
  • $35,775 – Arkansas Average
  • $34,574 – Central Arkansas Average
  • $47,016 – Arkansas’s Highest – Springdale School District 
  • $30,500 – Arkansas’s Lowest – Cutter-Morning Star

The union not only doesn’t want new teachers in D and F schools, it doesn’t want them in the district.

Wrap your head around that. Springdale – now the largest school district in Arkansas – starts its teachers $12,151 more per year than far richer Little Rock. LRSD is actually closer to the state’s cellar dweller (+$4,275) than to its leader (-$12,151).

Annual dues for the Little Rock Education Association are $724, no matter the teacher’s income. $192 of that is sent to the National Education Association (NEA), $360 is sent to the Arkansas Education Association, and only $172 stays local. Because Little Rock has, by far, the most union teachers of any district in the state, it is subsidizing the state’s politically active association, which endorses candidates for federal and state office.

The union does not report its individual school membership. But, because it uses the district’s payroll deduction system to collect most of its dues, that information is public. So, here are those percentages (excluding EFT, direct payment):

LRSD Elementary Schools Performance, Union Teachers

SchoolsGradesESSA ScoreNumber of TeachersNumber of Union TeachersPercentage UnionAvg Absences per Teacher Last Quarter (Sick, Personal)
BaleF57.17281450% 0.90
BaselineD59.6136514% 1.90
BookerC65.36371951% 1.68
BradyD61.34301757% 2.25
CarverC70.04341853% 1.29
ChicotD62.23512753%  1.66
DoddD64.57251664% 2.04
Forest  Heights K-578.04211467% 1.09 
Forest ParkA85.1029414% 2.07
FulbrightC71.63421638% 1.49
GibbsB75.29272281% 1.81
JeffersonA85.52311445% 1.31
KingD58.80342059% 3.25
MabelvaleD58.60332164% 1.41
McDermottD62.72291655% 2.48
MeadowcliffD61.34241250% 1.48
Otter CreekC65.51291448% 0.76
Pulaski HeightsB74.11211048% 0.21
RobertsA87.61601118% 1.62
RockefellerD62.89301757% 2.04
RomineF55.51281139% 1.83
StephensF56.18372568% 1.73
TerryC67.74301550% 1.97
WakefieldC66.9032825% 2.09
WashingtonF54.09361953% 2.65
WatsonD58.70312168% 1.51
Western HillsD64.05221464% 3.47
WilliamsB78.4130930% 1.36

LRSD Middle School Performance, Union Teachers

SchoolsGradeESSA ScoreNumber of TeachersNumber of Union TeachersPercentage UnionAvg Absences per Teacher Last Quarter (Sick, Personal) 
CloverdaleF52.96533770% 2.30
DunbarD58.35522752% 2.17
Forest Heights 6-8A78.04371849% 1.09
HendersonD55.87574172% 2.63
MabelvaleD58.94503468% 2.09
MannC68.30634775% 2.23
Pinnacle ViewB74.32693043% 0.99
Pulaski HeightsC68.22513059% 2.57

LRSD High School Performance, Union Teachers

SchoolsGradeESSA ScoreNumber of TeachersNumber of Union TeachersPercentage UnionAvg Absences per Teacher Last Quarter (Sick, Personal) 
FairF47.27684059% 2.90
CentralC65.841608251% 1.61
HallF47.34905864% 3.08
McClellan  F48.18664061% 2.06
ParkviewC65.90873540% 1.39

See the correlation?

The district has 1,800 teachers assigned to K-12 schools, with 948 (53%) paying their union dues via payroll deduction. Here are the district’s grades and their respective (minimum) union percentages:

  • 4 A Schools (34% Union – 61 of 178)
  • 4 B Schools (48% Union – 71 of 147)
  • 10 C Schools (50% Union – 284 of 565)
  • 14 D Schools (57% Union – 288 of 504)
  • 8 F Schools (60% Union – 244 of 406)

Union blaming? Bashing? Try exposing. As long as the union chooses to protect members who have chronically failed students, it requires intervention, just as did the district in 2015.

Having long experienced the union’s outsized influence in the district, it would have been our preference that the current administration do what the previous did when it intervened in the Pulaski County Special School District and decertify the union. Instead, Commissioner Key chose to defer to his appointed superintendents’ choice of patience and collaboration.

Even now, he chooses to continue recognizing the union, while surgically applying a waiver of “Teacher Fair Dismissal” to only the worst performing schools in the district. His thanks? He and his leadership are repeatedly misrepresented and vilified by those whose standing rests solely in his hands.

Our experience is that the union, oblivious to its current reality, will overplay its hand and leave the Commissioner no choice. Until then and thereafter, may its members, non-union teachers, parents, students and the community find solidarity – not with the self interests of adults, but with the best interests of students.

The author and his wife are decades long members of three unions and keenly aware that if they do not do the jobs they are hired to do they will be immediately removed.

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