Leader Blues

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

TOP STORY >>District is seen hurting in deal

Leader senior staff writer

Former Pulaski County Special School District Board member—and current Pulaski County treasurer—Pat O’Brien Monday suggested that the Little Rock School Board had caved in to civil-rights attorney John Walker and that the result could make it more difficult for PCSSD to achieve unitary status and escape court supervision.

That’s particularly important to Jacksonville-area residents, who can’t get their own school district as long as PCSSD is under the thumb of the courts.

“I think (the PCSSD board and administration) are looking for a signal from Little Rock,” O’Brien said. “When (John) Walker applies pressure, the board members faint.”

Attorney Ben Rice suggested that some Jacksonville area patrons might need to sue the school board to make it follow through on achieving unitary status, or release from court supervision.

“We may need to get into court to get out of court,” said Rice. He added that he’d been told the district didn’t really want unitary status for fear of losing about $18 million a year in desegregation money.

Reedie Ray, another former school board member, said he’d been told many years ago that the only way to get the district out of court was to go to court.

“Maybe we should sue the district for not giving our students a good education,” said Rotary president Bob Johnson.
The venue was the Jacksonville Rotary Club meeting Monday, where PCSSD board member James Bolden was the guest speaker. Bolden told Rotarians that the district’s lawyer, Sam Jones, had said the district is headed toward unitary status and that the district didn’t intend to oppose unitary status or a stand-alone Jacksonville district.

Bolden started his discussion by explaining his successful motion to reinstate the Pulaski Association of Support Staff as bargaining agent for bus drivers, janitors and other non-certified personnel. PASS was decertified after a Jan. 4, 2004 strike—Bolden seconded the motion at that time to decertify the union as the bargaining agent.

By a 4-3 vote, the board ap-proved a 5 percent across-the-board raise, plus a 3.29 experience step raise and a 3.5 percent longevity raise. But, said Bolden, the administration lobbied the three dissenting board members, saying the district could not afford that raise, and a special meeting was called where the four members present rescinded the raises.

Bolden said he was tired of seeing teachers and principals get raises while the people at the bottom got very little. He said they hadn’t had a decent raise since 2002.

Bolden, who announced he would run for a third and final term for the school board, said, “You have my support (for a stand-alone Jacksonville district). I will not waiver. I don’t want them to shortchange Jacksonville,” said Bolden. “And they do. The school buildings are shot.”

He said, “The wheel that squeaks the loudest gets the grease.”

Bolden suggested that Jacksonville make enough noise that the PCSSD “wants to get rid of us.”

Jacksonville’s schools are at least 30 years old. Jacksonville High School was built in 1959.

“People are leaving in leaps and bounds,” he said.

A representative of Little Rock Air Force Base said Brig. Gen. (Select) Rowayne Schatz, 314th Airlift Wing commander, has chosen to send his children to a private school rather than PCSSD.