Leader Blues

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

TOP STORY >> PCSSD is hurt by departures

Leader senior staff writer

Pulaski County Special School District’s deputy superintendent Bever-ly Ruthven, apparently fed up with a quarrelsome school board, has handed in her two-week notice according to two board members.

Ruthven said simply, “I’ve done all I can do for Pulaski County Special School District. Now I’m looking for other opportunities.

“I’m very proud of the school district and its accomplishments,” she said Tuesday afternoon. “Student achievement has gone up.”

Ruthven, 55, worked for the district for 22 years, starting as a teacher and working her way up to deputy superintendent and acting superintendent.

“It’s a great, great loss,” board member Danny Gililland said Tuesday. “She was very knowledgeable, a dedicated, hard worker for the children. It is a sad day and a great loss to have her gone.”

Asked if she’d be interested in the superintendent’s job with the proposed Jacksonville/north Pulaski County school district, she said, “I have always had a soft spot for Jacksonville.”

Gililland said he feared that the district could lose many talented educators frustrated with the board upon which he sits.

“When (North Pulaski High School principal) Tracy Allen resigned to go to North Little Rock, I said I was fearful it would be one of the first of many resignations to come,” Gililland said. Now with Ruthven’s resignation and the earlier-than-anticipated retirement of several other employees, Gililland said many were “leaving because of turmoil on the board.”

Gililland said he thought that Ruthven didn’t feel that she had support from the board as a whole and the district to do the job she wanted to do.

Ruthven, who was passed over for the position of interim superintendent for elementary school principal Rob McGill when the board forced James Sharpe to retire earlier this year, has been the district’s guiding hand as it implemented new programs and procedures to help lift PCSSD and its schools from the academic doldrums.

She has been the driving force behind the new Jacksonville Star Academy program, designed to keep marginal, at-risk students from dropping out of school before graduation.

Gililland said he believes the final straw may have come when board member Charlie Wood told a state Department of Education official that the board and district didn’t have to follow state guidelines and requirements, challenging and chastising her during a meeting.

Asked if Ruthven would be a good candidate for an eventual Jacksonville/north Pulaski County district, Gililland said. “She’d be a good candidate for anybody in education — Jacksonville, the state Education Department or another district.”

In the second special meeting in a week, the PCSSD board reversed itself and hired Gary Miller and Arkansas Educational Consultants to be the lead negotiator in contract talks with the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers.

The board agreed to pay Miller $12,500 or more to negotiate a contract that Debbie Coley, director of Human Resources was negotiating for free.

Colie and PACT had reached an impasse, but she can only negotiate what the members of the board authorize.

If they don’t change their authorization, Miller also will be locked in an impasse with PACT. If they do change the authorization, then perhaps Colie could have reached an agreement without him.

The board approved the hiring of staff for the summer school, which will be held at Jacksonville High School, and the transition camp.

The board voted to remove a $5.5 million Robinson media center from stimulus funding and directed $3.2 million of it to expand Pine Forest, the Maumelle elementary school from which interim Superintendent Rob McGill and where board president Tim Clark had at least one child enrolled.

The board approved a pro forma proposed 2010-2011 budget that showed no addition to the 40.7 millage rate. This is not the real budget of either the 2009-2010 school year or the 2010-2011 school year, but it was approved in accordance with state law.