Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

TOP STORY >> PCSSD hires two for better school safety

Leader staff writer

At a special meeting on Monday evening, the school board of the Pulaski County Special School District approved hiring of an additional assistant principal for both Jacksonville and Mills high schools and removed the allocation for the existing dean of students position at Mills.

According to district policy, a school is eligible for an assistant principal when enrollment reaches 375 and may add another position with each additional 375 students.

“That is a guiding number – I don’t know how hard and fast that is,” said Deborah Rousch, director of information for PCSSD.

The new, permanent hires will replace assistant principals both schools lost recently. The new hire at Jacksonville will bring the number of assistant principals back up to three after one transferred to the newly opened STAR Academy for at-risk youth at the beginning of the school year. The high school’s enrollment is 1,010.

Kenneth Clark, head principal at Jacksonville High School, said that the news of the board’s decision was “like a breath of fresh air.”

Being short an assistant principal had forced Clark to “revamp everything and look at things in a new way. I thank the board for adding more administrative power to our team.”

The assistant principal position at Mills replaces a temporary dean of discipline position recently vacated, bringing the total number of assistant principals there to three. The school’s enrollment is 806.

The annual cost for the two positions could be as much as $170,531, including benefits.

Board members Tim Clark, Gwen Williams, Sandra Sawyers, and Mildred Tatum voted for the additional principals. Board members Danny Gililland and Bill Vasquez cast dissenting votes on the motion by board member Mildred Tatum. Board member Charley Wood was absent.

Tatum made the same proposal at the regular monthly board meeting last week, but it died for lack of a second. At that meeting, the board passed a similar measure by board chair Tim Clark, for a second assistant principal at Maumelle Middle School. The school has 709 students.

It was board chair Clark who called for the special meeting to weigh in on the assistant principal issue. Afterwards, he said that he did so because he felt both Mills and Jacksonville high schools “were not adequately staffed. Discipline is an important factor in education; we need to focus more on discipline.”

Sawyer said she voted in favor of the additional principals because she “saw an immediate need” in order to “create a safe environment that is conductive to learning. We must have the one before we can have the other.”

Sawyer said she would like to “look at all the schools” and then “put a plan into action, a swift plan, to address discipline issues in the district.”

After the meeting, Gililland said he voted against the measure because of “budgetary reasons.”

“Ms. (Anita) Farver (the district’s chief financial officer) said that the district did not have the budget to support it,” Gililland said, referring to discussion at the board’s last regular monthly meeting on Oct. 13. “I want people to understand that I would love to see another assistant principal at every school – and classrooms of 15 to 18 students, but when you don’t have the funding, you just don’t do it.”

Gililland said that district revenues are not keeping pace with the $5 million draw this year from reserves to fund new school construction. And then there is the question of how long the district will continue to receive $18 million annually to implement its desegregation plan. Whether the money is cut off all at once or gradually will be for the state to decide, Gililland said, adding, “We’ve got serious money issues and need to be responsible to the taxpayers.”

Vasquez said he voted against the motion because it was not part of an effort to address discipline problems in the district in a comprehensive way.

“It is a band-aid fix to a systemic problem,” Vasquez said after the meeting. “There has not been one recommendation from the board or the superintendent’s office to address findings in the last deseg report. His reference was to periodic reviews by the Office of Desegregation Monitoring, an arm of the U.S. District Court which assesses the district’s compliance its own goals and strategies for elimination of racial disparities in 11 discrete areas, including discipline.

“My zone loses more students than any other,” Vasquez said. “Jacksonville High has a lot of discipline problems, for whatever reason, but the problem with all this is that it is not budgeted.”

In the latest report from the Office of Desegregation Monitoring, published in fall 2008, the PCSSD was taken to task for not doing enough to bring down the high number of discipline referrals, suspensions, expulsions and assignments to Saturday school among black students.

“We charged the last superintendent to take care of those things, and he did not,” Vasquez said. “The district staff is not very proactive in bringing solutions to the board to solve problems.”

After the meeting, Brenda Bowles, assistant superintendent for equity and pupil services for PCSSD, commented that “sometimes people make statements that are a little unfair. They have a report every year that has recommendations.”