Board tackles Arkansas Learns Act during summer meeting
June 12, 2023
Delta Digital News Service
By Caroline Cherry Averitt | Contributor
JONESBORO, Ark. – Last week, the Valley View School Board responded to the new Arkansas legislation by revising its board policies at the final board meeting for the 2022-2023 school year.
The Arkansas LEARNS Act, legislation signed into law in March, made changes to many policies in Arkansas schools. This legislation, a priority for Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders since she took office, became controversial across the state.
Due to its impact on schools, Supt. Roland Popejoy introduced Arkansas LEARNS as, “the elephant in the room.”
Arkansas LEARNS raised the minimum salary for teachers to $50,000 and requires each certified teacher receive a raise of $2,000. The state provides some of the money needed to supply these pay increases.
Sara Osment, the assistant superintendent, said, “The school district did have to provide additional financial support to provide some differentiation between what we were provided by the state just to make it a competitive salary schedule.”
School board secretary Lee Lane said the biggest change the LEARNS Act will make for Valley View will be the pay raise for teachers.
“We’re not as funded as other schools within the region, and so we have to look at every penny,” Lane said.
“We’re not as funded as other schools within the region, and so we have to look at every penny,”
– Lee Lane, Valley View School Board Secretary
Since Arkansas LEARNS requires a minimum salary of $50,000, schools like Valley View must provide competitive salaries for veteran teachers from other parts of the budget, rather than the state provided money.
“That law, really kind of took 15-year teachers and bumped everybody up to possibly what they were making. So, it gave no incentive or increase for those teachers that had seniority. So, we had to sit down and really look at our budget. Because that’s got to come from somewhere,” Lane said.
“That law, really kind of took 15-year teachers and bumped everybody up to possibly what they were making. So, it gave no incentive or increase for those teachers that had seniority. So, we had to sit down and really look at our budget. Because that’s got to come from somewhere,”
– Lee Lane, Valley View School Board Secretary
He said he hopes in years to come, the board will be able to continue to give raises to experienced teachers.
In other business, the board voted to revise its policy due to Arkansas legislation concerning preferred names and pronouns of students, specifically with students identifying as transgender.
The new law requires teachers to call students by the name and pronouns listed on their birth certificate. The legislation allows parents to approve a name or pronoun change for their children.
“We have had students that have wanted to or identified differently and wanted to change their names, but we have used a similar process to what is now going to be in law with regard to how (the legislation) addressed it,” Popejoy said.
“We have had students that have wanted to or identified differently and wanted to change their names, but we have used a similar process to what is now going to be in law with regard to how (the legislation) addressed it,”
– Valley View School Board Superintendent Roland Popejoy
He said the legislation required the board to approve a specific policy, but it will not cause a major change in the districts existing procedure.
“We always want to actively involve our parents in that process, and help to make sure our children feel apart and welcome, but it’s very important that the parents are involved in that process,” Popejoy said.
The Arkansas legislation included some optional policies the board could approve or deny at its discretion. The only optional policy the board rejected would change requirements for parental leave for teachers.
The legislation increased maternity leave, for new biological mothers and foster mothers of children younger than 12 months old, from four to 12 weeks.
The board decided against the approval of this optional policy due to budget concerns. The board will revisit the regulations when clearer rules and regulations become available.
“There may be items that have fiscal impact on the district that we are not privy to or aware of as an unintended consequence of the law. And so, we want to make sure that we are watching that and not obligate ourselves to funding that benefit whenever there is going to be a shortfall on what the state will provide,” Popejoy said.
He said the state would provide the wages for substitutes for teachers taking parental leave, but would not pay the teacher’s salary, which would need to be paid by the district.
“We want to provide benefits that meet the needs of our staff, but also focus on what everybody is eligible for. So, if we have staff members that have already had their children, then they would not be eligible for that necessarily,” Popejoy said. “If we have individual staff members that are not able to have children, you know, that would not really be equitable for them.”
Both Popejoy and Osment began their roles as superintendent and assistant superintendent this academic year.
“(There have been) lots of changes and learning a lot of things but overall, I thought it was very successful year and we’re glad to have one year and our belts,” Osment said.
Popejoy said he feels optimistic about next school year, despite the many changes.
“I’m excited for the opportunity to keep making good impact on our kiddos,” Popejoy said.
Caroline Cherry Averitt is a junior at Arkansas State University from Jonesboro, Arkansas. Her major is multimedia journalism with a minor in writing studies concentrating in creative writing. She can be reached at: [email protected]
Note: Feature photo by Caroline Cherry Averitt.
Valley View School Board discusses new state legislation impact. Article may or may not reflect the views of KLEK 102.5 FM or The Voice of Arkansas Minority Advocacy Council