Little Rock teachers union to hold 1-day strike

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Little Rock teachers will strike for one day this week over an Arkansas panel’s decision to strip their collective bargaining power and complaints about state control of the 23,000-student district, union officials said Thursday.

The strike will be only the second time teachers have walked out of the job in Arkansas history. The Little Rock Education Association’s announcement comes after the state Board of Education in October voted to no longer recognize the union when the contract expired Oct. 31.

Union leaders are calling for the state to give them back their bargaining power. Before the contract ended on Oct. 31, the Little Rock School District had been the only one in Arkansas where a teachers union had collective bargaining power.

The union also wants to see full local control of the district restored. Arkansas has run Little Rock’s schools since the state board took over the district in January 2015 because of low test scores at several schools. The state board has voted to put the district under a local board that will be elected in November 2020, but with limits on its authority. The strike will occur the day the state panel is expected to vote on establishing the zones for the new local board.

The only other teachers strike in Arkansas was in 1987, when Little Rock students missed six days of school before a new two-year contract was approved.

In anticipation of the current strike, school officials have been lining up hundreds of substitute teachers and have said about 200 district and state employees can also work as educators.

The strike follows weeks of demonstrations over the state board’s move against the union and its control of Little Rock’s schools. The state Board of Education last month backed off a plan to divide control of the school district after critics said it would return Little Rock to a racially segregated system 62 years after nine black students integrated all-white Central High School.

The union, however, says the latest plan still falls far short of full local control since the state would still maintain some authority.

A teachers strike in Little Rock would follow similar actions elsewhere. A strike in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest school district, canceled 11 days of classes for more than 300,000 students before a contract deal was reached on Oct. 31. And teachers in several states, including Oklahoma, West Virginia and Kentucky, protested last year at state capitols over wages and other issues.

Those in support of ending the Little Rock union’s recognition have said more teachers will be represented by the district setting up a personnel policies committee made up of teachers that would offer advice on salaries and other issues. The state board also voted to reinstate employee protections for teachers in the district that it had waived in December.