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Arkansas attorney general comments on LRSD layoffs

Little Rock School District buses
Attorney General Tim Griffin authored an opinion on the legality of layoffs in the Little Rock School District made possible by the Arkansas LEARNS Act.

Arkansas' attorney general is responding to questions over a recent bout of budget-related layoffs in the Little Rock School District.

Attorney General Tim Griffin responded in writing to a question asked by Democratic state Sen. Clarke Tucker of Little Rock, who wanted to clarify any potential recourse for teachers being let go for “budgetary constraints'' and not “disciplinary problems.”

Before the passage of the Arkansas LEARNS Act last year, terminating a teacher came with certain procedural requirements. Educators were protected by the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act of 1983, which mandated teachers whose contracts were terminated or not renewed be given “just and reasonable cause.” LEARNS did away with the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act.

The LRSD is currently in a cash crunch. Since January, the district has been working to make up to $16 million in budget cuts. On March 28, the district released a list of over 30 teachers and staff who were either retiring or resigning.

At a Little Rock School Board meeting on April 11, attorney Chris Heller said many teachers are experiencing “one-year contracts” because of LEARNS, meaning their employment is extended on a year-by-year basis.

“When a contract is up, it's up,” he said.

Heller said the district has to give “due process and a hearing” to cut contracts short, but having hearings for teachers whose contracts were not renewed is no longer necessary. Heller added it “makes good sense” to inform teachers of why they are being let go.

Attorney General Tim Griffin said the LRSD’s recent methods are “generally consistent with state law.” He agreed the LEARNS Act requires a termination hearing if teachers are fired, but not if their contract isn't being renewed.

They can also be given a hearing if they are in a "grievance" situation, which LEARNS defines as “any concern related to personnel policy, salary, federal laws and regulations, state laws and rules, or terms or conditions of employment raised by an employee.” Tucker had questioned whether the LRSD's grievance process could apply to teachers whose contracts aren't extended for budgetary reasons.

The bottom line, Griffin says, is that the LEARNS Act prohibits districts from adding “more rights" to personnel policies than what's already afforded to teachers under state law.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.