LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Little Rock teachers could strike again or take other action to protest Arkansas’ takeover of the local district and the loss of collective bargaining rights, the head of the city’s teachers union said Friday, a day after hundreds of educators walked out for the first time in more than three decades.
Little Rock Education Association President Teresa Knapp Gordon called Thursday’s strike in the 23,000-student district a success, saying it drew attention to their call for a return to full local control of the district’s schools. Arkansas has run the Little Rock district since 2015, when it was taken over because of low test scores at several schools.
Hundreds of teachers picketed dozens of schools throughout the district during the first strike in Little Rock since 1987. It followed the state Board of Education’s decision last month to strip the union’s collective bargaining power.
“We’re going to continue to fight until we get a democratically elected school board with full decision-making authority,” Gordon said. “What that fight looks like, I don’t know yet.”
The Little Rock School District said a third of its roughly 1,800 teachers were absent on Thursday, and less than half of its students attended school. Gordon said the union believes the number of teachers and staff who participated in the strike, however, was closer to 1,200. The district kept the schools open after lining up hundreds of substitute teachers.
Gordon said the union will continue pushing for full local control of the district. The state board has voted to give the district’s control to a local school board that will be elected in November 2020, but the union has said that still falls far short because the state will maintain authority in some areas. Gordon said the union has other options for taking action, noting that some teachers last week participated in a “work to rule” action where they don’t work extra hours.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who appointed eight of the nine state board members, said he viewed the strike as more about protecting the union. Before its contract expired, the Little Rock Education Association was the only teachers union in the state with a collective bargaining agreement with a district.
“I think the board was fairly expressive that when the Little Rock School District is the only school district with a union contract, then let’s try something different and let’s get more flexibility,” Hutchinson told reporters.
The only other teachers strike in the district was in 1987, when Little Rock students missed six days of school before a new two-year contract was approved.