Leader Blues

Saturday, October 17, 2009

TOP STORY >> Board to revisit security issues

Leader staff writer

The Pulaski County Special School District this week refused to assign more assistant principals for security to Jacksonville and Mills high schools. But the board will revisit the issue at a special meeting at 5 p.m. Monday.

There was a passionate debate at the board’s regular meeting Tuesday on how to beef up discipline at three secondary schools and the larger issue of how to equitably address school security needs district-wide.

A request by Zone 1 representative Mildred Tatum to hire permanent deans of discipline – more commonly known as assistant principals – for Mills and Jacksonville high schools died for lack of a second.

A similar request by board president Tim Clark for another assistant principal at Maumelle Middle School was also denied.

Then, after much discussion, the board voted in favor of assigning a central office staff person on a half-day basis to the middle school for one month.

During that time, Superintendent Rob McGill and staff will evaluate discipline-referral data district-wide and prepare recommendations to the board on how staffing could improve school security.

Tatum had requested $2,100 to convert an existing assistant-principal position at Mills from temporary to permanent.

She told the board that the person in the position is resigning and contended that year-to-year funding for the job hindered effectiveness and retention, saying, “It is hard not knowing what is happening next year.”

Tatum also requested $52,708 to hire a replacement for an assistant principal at Jacksonville High School who moved over to the STAR Academy – a new program at the old Jacksonville Middle School for Girls – this year.

The rationale for the two positions, according to a statement in the meeting agenda, was that the two schools “represent the greatest concentration of poverty students … and the highest number of minority suspensions, expulsions, referrals and general discipline in the secondary schools of Pulaski County.”

Clark’s request, following on the heels of Tatum’s, was for $71,000 to hire an additional assistant principal at Maumelle Middle School. He said that he was considering not enrolling his son there next year because of the high rate of discipline-referrals, among the highest at PCSSD middle schools.

Rather than immediately in-stall a new assistant principal at any school, McGill advised waiting until the school year was over to evaluate district-wide discipline referral numbers “to make it fair for all schools, not just pick and choose.”

New board member Sandra Sawyer, who replaces Shana Chaplin as the Zone 2 representative, asked if a study had already been done to see if stepped-up staffing improved school security.

Board member Danny Gilliland, who represents many of Jacksonville’s schools and Northwood Middle School, warned that hiring new assistant principals without studying the numbers would be “a dangerous road to go down,” would run “the risk of lawsuits” and result in “every other secondary school up here yelling bloody murder.”

Clark countered, “If somebody can justify a position as needed, I’ll vote for it all day long. It is appalling to me that we’ll spend $60,000 for someone to count computers (alluding to a measure approved earlier in the meeting), but question spending money to keep discipline in the classroom.”

That was despite the fact that Clark voted only to hire disciplinary help for Maumelle Middle School but not favor one for Jacksonville or Mills high schools.

Jacksonville board member Bill Vasquez, who represents Jacksonville High School among several other schools in Jacksonville, proposed pulling a person from the district’s central office staff to get help immediately at Maumelle Middle while the superintendent and staff bring us a recommendation.”

Board member Charlie Wood of Sherwood warned against placing too much emphasis on the number of students who are disciplined at each of the schools.

“Statistics are good, but you have to be careful. You can’t just count the number of suspensions and referrals. These kinds of statistics are not necessarily a good measure of what is happening at a school. High numbers can mean that a principal is doing a dang good job, and it is a great school that parents should be sending their kids to. Listen to zone members. They know their areas. That means more than the statistics.”

The board then voted 6 to 1, with Gililland casting the dissenting vote, in favor of installing a temporary assistant principal at Maumelle Middle School.

The board then voted against reopening discussion to consider new hires for Mills and Jacksonville high schools.

Other board business included allocation of $58,097 for the salary of a fixed-assets specialist, who will be responsible for keeping track of the district’s vast inventory of equipment and other fixed assets.

The position was frozen several years ago when the district was in fiscal distress. The responsibility was taken over by a purchasing agent, but an auditor recommended separation of the two jobs for security purposes, explained Anita Farver, chief financial officer for the district. When some board members questioned the rate of pay that accompanied upgrading the position, Farver explained, “We are trying to attract a person who can do the job, hit the ground running, so we can get ready and stay ready.”

The board also approved a request for proposals for up to $75,000 in equipment for the boardroom. It will make it possible for members to view relevant documents electronically, cutting down copying costs.

A motion to add the board office of parliamentarian was heard on the first reading and will be heard again in November. As a board policy change, the motion requires three readings before a vote.

The board also voted in favor of the district administration issuing a request for proposals from banking institutions in order to obtain the best rate of return on its financial assets.

The board voted to immediately increase per diem pay for substitute teachers with a four-year college degree.

The rate change – from $60 to $75 per day – applies to assignments up to nine days. By comparison, the rate in Little Rock schools is $60 and in North Little Rock schools $53.

The change will cost the district an estimated $100,700 annually. The change will also increase pay to teachers who cash in accrued leave time. That may cost the district an additional $75,000 annually, McGill said.

The board also elected officers. Clark was re-elected president, defeating Gilliland. Wood was elected as vice president, over Gilliland, replacing Vasquez.

Incumbent Gwen Williams of Zone 7 was re-elected as secretary-treasurer over Tatum, the Zone 1 representative.