Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

TOP STORY: PCSSD is accused of illegal cutbacks

By: JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

The state Education Department has rejected for now Pulaski County Special School District’s fiscal distress improvement plan, pending a satisfactory explanation of the district’s “actual authority to eliminate paid holidays, reduce the number of days in an employment contract and freeze salary schedules and steps for all employees,” according to a letter received by interim Superintendent Robert Clowers July 25.

Those were among the steps taken by the PCSSD board to turn a budget deficit into an $8.5 million surplus by next July.

The district was given 20 days to respond, but Clowers sought and received an extension until Aug. 29.

In a hearing at the August board meeting Tuesday night, support staff members sought to have the decreases in their pay and benefits overturned, citing the letter from the Education Department as proof that the cuts were “a clear violation of the personnel policies law.”

“You didn’t go through the proper channels,” the support staff’s lawyer told them.
The board voted overwhelmingly not to overturn its cuts. “I propose a board meeting about that letter, but we shouldn’t (overturn our previous action) today,” said board member Pam Roberts.

Meanwhile, talks between the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers (PACT) and district negotiators has stalled over the same issue—the freezing of step increases and loss of paid holidays, according to James Sharpe, assistant superintendent for human resources.
Teachers are due back Aug. 11 and PACT has a history of not returning to work without a signed contract.

Meanwhile, the district, which had about 80 teaching slots to fill three weeks ago, still has 40 unfilled positions. Sharpe said he was confident that most would be filled by the time school starts.