Leader Blues

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

TOP STORY > >PCSSD fails to banish unions

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Before an overflow crowd of teachers, school bus drivers and other district employees, the two unions representing Pulaski County Special School District employees escaped decertification for now in a special called school board meeting Tuesday night.

Then the board authorized attorney Sam Jones to continue discussing desegregation settlement issues with the state, the North Little Rock School District, the Little Rock School District and the Joshua Intervenors on issues such as the phase out of funding, phase out of majority-to-minority transfers and magnet programs and issues of concern to Joshua and the boundaries of a proposed Jacksonville district boundaries.

Board president Charlie Wood called the meeting to discuss the desegregation settlement issues, then sent out a second agenda that included decertification of the Pulaski Association of Support Staff and the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers.

Some board members called the change improper.

“I was never contacted about these items being on the agenda,” said board member Gwen Williams, a stalwart union supporter.

Williams hinted that teachers and support staff might sit out the start of school if their unions were decertified and funding cuts are implemented.

“Do you want schools to open August 18?” asked Williams. “If you want them to open, you will take this off the table.

“If we lose the students, this time we won’t get them back,” she said, noting that they now had charter schools and others to choose from.

Williams and board member Mildred Tatum said the decertification items had been added without proper notification to the agenda.

Wood asked board attorney Jay Bequette, who said the meeting and the agenda were properly constituted.

“Our attorney is not a member of the board,” said Tatum.

Board member Danny Gilliland made a motion to decertify PASS as the negotiating agent for the support staff, but his motion died for lack of a second.

Then Susan Chaplin moved to decertify PACT as the teachers’ negotiating agent. Her motion also died for lack of a second.

Wood promised that he would again put decertification of the unions on the agenda for the next regular school board meeting, if not sooner. That meeting is set for Aug. 12.

He said questions raised about the legality of considering the decertification at the meeting was the main reason board members were reluctant to proceed.

But the members have expressed their opinions about the unions and negotiations, and unless someone’s position shifts, Wood, Gilliland, Chaplin and Pam Roberts seem likely to vote to decertify, and Williams, Tatum and Bill Vasquez seem likely to vote against it.

“We’re playing games if we don’t show the board’s intent,” said Wood. “Put the cards on the table and see what we think.”

Meanwhile, the state has formulated seven points of a draft plan, and asked the three districts and other stakeholders to respond to its proposal by July 18 or make their own proposals.

The state’s proposal included ideas on magnet schools and M-to-M transfer programs, on unitary status and dealing with teacher retirement and health-insurance payment, as well as creation of educational achievement trust funds, the state’s obligation to terminate the agreement at the end of seven years and language preserving and altering district boundaries.

“The state did not specifically handle the Jacksonville question,” said Jones, alluding to Jacksonville’s ongoing efforts to carve its own school district out of the Pulaski County Special School District.

He said the state would probably contribute $69 million to desegregation efforts next school year, divided between the three districts. A seven-year phaseout has been proposed, and Jones said he thought the districts should get 100 percent the first, second and third years, then down to 80 percent the fourth year working toward zero.

The state seems agreeable to continuing to pay transportation costs for magnet and M-to-M transfers, he said.

Roberts said she wants a guarantee from the state that unforeseen difficulties will not land PCSSD back in fiscal distress and under the thumb of the state again.

Jones said that was also a major concern of Steven Jones, attorney for the North Little Rock School District.

Sam Jones said that most of his meetings so far had been between PCSSD and the Joshua Intervenors, but they would soon branch out to include the state.