Leader Blues

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

TOP STORY >> Temporary leader says long-term planning is his goal

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Interim Superintendent Rob McGill says he’s taking the long view when assessing the needs of the Pulaski County Special School District and its students.

If he treats his job as a temporary caretaker until the board chooses a full-time superintendent, “that puts the district at jeopardy. If I make three or six-month decisions, then I’m not doing very good.”

He said he would “take a fresh look at everything, anything.”

“Rebuilding confidence” in the district is a top priority and the first step along that path is completion of an audit of the district books to be sure finances are in order.

“We want to make decisions for the students and be good stewards of the money,” he said.

McGill said the focus is on education with teacher training and staff development. Every student is important and needs to be successful and to meet annual yearly progress.

Of regular complaints by the teachers that they are not backed up by principals on disciplinary issues, McGill, a principal until March 11, said, “(The) safety of the kids and faculty are important to me and we’ll take steps to improve discipline.”

McGill, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Arkansas National Guard, says the district faces big challenges but he’d like the job full time.

He praised Jacksonville board member Bill Vasquez for looking out for his zone’s future while taking the rest of the district’s interests to heart by voting to sell the second-lien bond to build the two new schools out of his zone.

“Jacksonville is part of our district until (that area has its own district). Those kids deserve good decisions,” McGill added.

He said he’s already been out to the Jacksonville Boys Middle School to see what will be required to make the building ready for twice as many students when the school goes coed next fall.

While a comprehensive audit ordered by the school board and the shift to coed schooling at Jacksonville Middle School demand immediate attention, the long-range goal is to improve academics throughout the district.

Supt. James Sharpe and chief financial officer Larry O’Briant both resigned under duress in March, but McGill said other employees need not fear for their jobs. As always, he said, employees will be judged by performance on the job.

“There is no vendetta,” he said. “No names on a list that need to go. We’ve got a lot of decisions to be made and work to do,” he said.

Although McGill took over on the heels of a long and messy struggle between Sharpe and some members of the school board, at least some central office administrators say he seems organized and efficient.

In some districts, the superintendent leads and the board follows. In PCSSD, recent history has shown that the board members consider the superintendent their top employee and they expect him to do what they want.

The board bought out the contracts of his three immediate predecessors.

McGill said he would work to communicate well with the board members, “let them know of my philosophy and if they don’t match, then we’ll know.”

Also, McGill says the district must make a data-based decision as to whether or not it will have the revenues to repay the $81 million second-lien bond it would sell to finance a new high school at Maumelle and a Sylvan Hills middle school.

It will cost the district $4.7 million a year over 27 years to satisfy the second lien bond, McGill said.

An estimate from Baldwin and Shell Contractors earlier this year put the cost of the new high school at $80 million, which would leave nothing for construction of the Sylvan Hills middle school.

McGill said administrators and Baldwin and Shell already are “working to reduce that by several million.”

According to old estimates, the Sylvan Hills middle school would cost about $25 million, but the new high school was estimated at that time to cost only $45 million — the same school now estimated to be in the $80 million range.