Leader Blues

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

TOP STORY >> Board votes to decertify two unions

Leader senior staff writer

Tempers smoldered Tuesday night at the Pulaski County Special School District meeting, and before the evening was over, the school board withdrew recognition of both the teachers’ union and the support staff union as negotiating agents by a vote of 4-2.

“This is a huge mistake,” said board member Bill Vasquez of Jacksonville. “It sends a horrible message. It’s poor judgment to act on this recommendation,” he said, so close to PCSSD’s hearing for unitary status in federal court the week of Jan. 25.

He was joined in his opposition to the action by Gwen Williams, who steadfastly votes in the unions’ interests.

Earlier in the evening, before leaving, teachers’ union president Marty Nix said all options, including a strike, were on the table if the board stripped the unions of their negotiating power.

Emry Chesterfield, president of the Pulaski Association of Support Staff, made a comment that was interpreted by many as a threat to the young children of school board president Tim Clark, and moments later, board member Charlie Wood moved to decertify the unions.

During his turn at the podium, Chesterfield mocked Deborah Coley, one of the district’s negotiators. “You don’t do nothing unless you’re told,” he said.

“Sit down,” said Clark. “You’re grandstanding.”

“I’m going to go ahead and sit down, but you have to realize your kids are at home,” said Chesterfield.

Later, toward the end of the regular meeting, the board voted unanimously to table a motion that would have authorized a second-lien bond sale of as much as $2 million for construction of a new elementary school on Little Rock Air Force Base to replace both Arnold Drive and Tolleson elementary schools.

Acting Superintendent Rob McGill and Chief Financial Officer Anita Farver told the board that they didn’t believe the district had enough money to give raises to the teachers and build the new school.

Wood, who placed the new Jacksonville area elementary school issue on the budget, said he wanted language assuring that Jacksonville would take over the debt for the new school if and when the city detached from PCSSD.

Col. George A. Risse, commander of the 19th Mission Support Group at Little Rock Air Force Base; Col. C.K. Hyde, commander of 314th Air Mobility Wing, and Lisa Otey, wife of Col. Greg Otey of the 19th Airlift Wing attended the meeting in support of the new elementary school, slated to be built on the base, but outside the fence.

Hyde said he wasn’t disappointed that action on the new school was tabled.

“We appreciate the recognition of the need for a new elementary school that supports military dependents and others in our local community and we look forward to resolution,” Hyde said.

The evening began with a special called meeting at which many expected the board to ratify the new five-year contracts for both the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers and the PASS, but at the urging of Wood, the matter was tabled, angering members of both unions and their representatives.

Clark kept leaving the room, he said to confer with board member Sandra Sawyer, who he said was sick. Board member Mildred Tatum said Sawyer wasn’t so much sick as sick of the bickering among school board members, and said Sawyer had resigned earlier in the evening.

Clark angered the union members, who had come to the meeting with a contract agreement signed by their negotiator and the negotiator for the district and which had been unanimously ratified by the rank and file. They expected the board to sign off on the contract.

But shortly before the start of that meeting, Clark conferred with Sandra Roy, executive director of the unions, then went on to announce that the meeting had been postponed.

“Not all board members have been brought up to speed on all issues,” Clark said.

It was Wood in particular, a long-time foe of the unions, who said he hadn’t been briefed, that there were provisions in the five year contract that he disagreed with—including that it was a five-year contract instead of a one-year contract.
Wood said the unions dragged their feet in negotiations waiting until Shana Chaplin left the board. Chaplin was frequently at odds with the union.

Nix said seven months of negotiations started pretty rocky, with the board putting 71 items on the table, most of which involved contract stripping.

At the end of her heated comments, she said, “If your word means nothing, you are nothing.”

McGill told the board that the state Board of Education had approved the purchase of 31 new school buses over the next two years, using stimulus money.

Vasquez, warned that decertification of the unions, especially if they went out on strike, could influence U.S. District Judge Brian Miller to dissolve the district and annex part of it to the Little Rock School District, the rest of the North Little Rock district.