Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

TOP STORY > >Boundaries for school district are presented

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

A meeting that saw a brief discussion of a separate Jacksonville school district might have turned into a shootout at the Pulaski County Special School District corral instead resembled more a love-in by adjournment Tuesday, with union representatives and school board members all complimenting the district’s improving scores, hard work by the teachers and excitement over starting school on Monday.

Although word was already out that PCSSD president Charlie Wood had pulled from the agenda twin recommendations to withdraw recognition of the teachers’ and support staff’s unions, an overflow crowd packed the boardroom, standing and spilling out into the hall.

DECERTIFICATION PULLED

True to his word, however, Wood pulled both actions from the agenda, promising a board workshop on the Pulaski Association of Support staff contract and recognition and saying later that individual teachers had assured him that they thought any problems could be worked out.

Meanwhile, PCSSD School Board member Bill Vasquez of Jacksonville first recommended that the board petition the state Department of Education to create a Jacksonville School District, then added a more specific resolution and then tabled the entire matter.

“I just wanted to get the board this information and let them consider it,” Vasquez said.

Included in the information were both a map and a legal description of the Jacksonville and the other portions of north Pulaski County that would be included in the proposed district.

Supporters of a standalone Jacksonville school district say they need a few more days to pull together the last of the information to show that not only is a Jacksonville district financially feasible, but that it can be split off to the mutual advantage of the PCSSD.

Vasquez’s proposal was contingent upon PCSSD achieving unitary status from the federal courts or as part of a settlement with the state attorney general’s office.

UNIQUE NEEDS

“This action will allow the citizens of the proposed district to meet the unique educational needs of the students in the Jacksonville area while consolidating the remainder of the PCSSD into a more efficient and effective school district,” Vasquez wrote in support of his proposal.

Vasquez also proposed a resolution drafted by state Rep. Will Bond of Jacksonville in favor of the creation by detachment of a new school district in the Jacksonville/north Pulaski County area, which consists of the following schools:

Arnold Drive Elementary, Bayou Meto Elementary, Homer Adkins Pre-K, Jacksonville Elementary, Murrell Taylor Elementary and Pinewood Elementary.

Also, Tolleson Elementary, Warren Dupree Elementary, Jacksonville Boys Middle School, Jacksonville Girls Middle School, North Pulaski High School and Jacksonville High School.

PURSUE NEW DISTRICT

“The Pulaski County Special School District empowers its administrators, staff and lawyers to pursue creation of this new district with the goal being that the new district be in existence and in control of the geographical area attached in Exhibit A as soon as practicable,” the resolution read. “It empowered them to negotiate with representatives of the city of Jacksonville, unless otherwise directed by law or the State Board of Education.

“In approving the resolution, PCSSD would acknowledge that the new district could be created within the statutory scheme laid out by Act 395 of 2007 or by legislative acts now existence or to be passed.

“Nothing in this resolution shall be interpreted as an agreement by PCSSD to violate any currently existing court orders or consent decrees, the according to the resolution. If federal court approval were required, the district would agree not to oppose such approval.”

MORE NEGOTIATION

The resolution notes that the district understands that settling financial issues will require additional negotiation and agreement.

The meeting originally was slated to consider the decertification as bargaining agents of the Pulaski Association of Support Staff and the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers.

Earlier in the week, it seemed likely that both the teachers’ union and the support staff union could be decertified as bargaining agents.

STILL NO CONTRACT
With only days remaining until classes begin on Monday, the district and Pulaski Association of Support Staff still have not agreed on a new contract, and union supporters had hinted that decertification could result in a strike.

But Wood said Tuesday that the board had promised to consider PASS at a special board workshop and that he had decided it would be unfair to take action before that promised workshop.

PASS was decertified after a strike in 2004 and recertified July 10, 2007.

The Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers currently is in the second year of a three-year contract, so decertification would not take effect until June 30, 2009, according to the agenda proposal.

Judging by comments that were made in during the July board meeting, Danny Gilliland, who represents parts of Jacksonville and north Pulaski, Pam Roberts who represents Maumelle and west Little Rock, and Shana Chapman, who represents west Little Rock, seemed likely to join Wood, providing the four votes needed to decertify the union.

ROBERTS NOT RUNNING

Roberts is not running for reelection to the board in September.

Gwen Williams, who represents the McAlmont area; Mildred Tatum, who represents south Pulaski County, and also Vasquez have expressed support for the teachers and support staff.

Williams faces a September challenge from Reedie Ray of Jacksonville, who has gotten crossways with the PCSSD unions in the past.

Two previous attempts this year at decertification were unsuccessful or were deferred over parliamentary questions, but it appears that union opponents may have their ducks in a row this time.

PASS had been seeking a 3.6 percent increase in pay plus longevity increases while the district negotiators have offered 1.6 percent pay increase.

DESEG MONEY IFFY

Wood and Roberts have said with large cuts in desegregation aid likely looming, the district was not in a position to grant large pay increases or to sign new multi-year contracts. The teachers typically negotiate a three-year contract and PASS was also asking for a three-year contract.

If the district were released from the 20-year-old school desegregation agreement, the state would phase out the $16 million in annual desegregation support PCSSD receives.

The teachers and support staff have said they bore much of the brunt of cutbacks while the district struggled to get off fiscal distress designation and state Education Department scrutiny and now it’s time to increase pay.