Leader Blues

Saturday, November 15, 2008

TOP STORY > >Board asks for resignation

Leader senior staff writer

School board members say Pulaski County Special School District administrators dragged their feet when they should have been closing two elementary schools for the safety of the students, and as a result Superintendent James Sharpe’s job is on the line.

At a special board meeting Thursday to consider the two schools, which have been discovered to have substandard and weakened roofs over the classrooms, members pointedly questioned Sharpe, James Warren, his executive director for support services, and Jerry Holder, director of plant services, over the timeline between their receipt of a report critical of the roof structures and the time that students were finally pulled from Crystal Hill Elementary School.

The board then retired to executive session at the special meeting Thursday evening to consider personnel.

When board president Mildred Tatum came out of the session long enough to get copies of engineering reports, she was asked if the meeting were for “firing, hiring, or disciplining” personnel.

“Firing, firing, firing, firing,” she said.

Who are you considering firing?

“The board can only fire the superintendent,” she said.

Sharpe said that action caught him by surprise.

Sharpe still has his job for now, but the board will convene another special meeting at 5 p.m., Nov. 25 to discuss his future.

The board is trying to establish a timeline to see if the administration acted with due diligence, or if students were left in dangerous schools while the administration dawdled.

“I’m not pleased with the timelines,” said board member Bill Vasquez of Jacksonville. “We want all the information. We’ll know more in a week and a half. We’re not pleased with the way (Sharpe) handled this, with the transparency.

“This is just one more straw on the camel’s back,” Vasquez said.

Since Pam Roberts retired as the Maumelle-area board member and Tim Clark was elected without opposition, the balance of power has shifted from Charlie Wood, Danny Gililland and Shana Chapin, who were generally supportive of the administration, to Mildred Tatum, Gwen Williams and Bill Vasquez, who have frequently been critical.

With the addition of Clark, the new majority’s board has wasted no time asserting itself.

Sympathetic to the district’s two employee unions, the new majority reinstated the Pulaski Association of Support Staff as bargaining agent for non-certified personnel.

Now they have served notice on the administration by considering firing the superintendent.

Even if Sharpe survives with his job, Tatum, Williams, Vasquez and Clark will have gotten his attention.

The PCSSD board has fired or forced the resignation of the two superintendents that preceded Sharpe, and bought out the
contracts of each.

In 2004, the board bought out the remaining time on Don Henderson’s contract for $142,000.

Prior to that, the board bought out the contract to Superintendent Gary Smith.

Sharpe’s three-year contract is for $117,000 a year, but his contract protects the district from paying more than one year’s salary in the event that he retires or is fired, according to Tatum.