Leader Blues

Friday, August 08, 2008

TOP STORY > >Teachers, drivers to lose status at meeting

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Unless someone has changed his mind, it’s likely that both the teachers’ union and the support staff union could be decertified as bargaining agents when the Pulaski County Special School District meets in regular session Tuesday.

Also on the agenda is a proposal to endorse the idea of a standalone school district for Jacksonville and north Pulaski County.

Bill Vasquez, Jacksonville’s representative on the board, has put forward a recommendation to create a Jacksonville school district, contingent upon PCSSD achieving unitary status from the court or as part of a settlement involving the other districts, the attorney general’s office and the state Education Department.

The proposal says a separate district would meet the educational needs in the Jacksonville area “while consolidating the remainder of PCSSD into a more efficient unit.”

With only days remaining until classes begin Aug. 18, the district and Pulaski Association of Support Staff have not agreed on a new contract, and union sup porters have hinted that decertification could result in a strike.

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.

Board president Charlie Wood of Sherwood has taken an aggressive stand against both unions and said he would never sign off on a contract longer than five pages.

Likely to join Wood in voting to decertifying the unions are Danny Gilliland, who represents parts of Jacksonville and north Pulaski county; Pam Roberts, who represents Maumelle and west Little Rock, and Shana Chapman, who represents west Little Rock.

Likely to oppose any such move are Gwen Williams, who represents the McAlmont area, Mildred Tatum, who represents south Pulaski County, and also Vasquez.

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.

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 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 its time to increase pay.