Leader Blues

Monday, December 14, 2009

TOP STORY >> PCSSD prepares for strike

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

A fight and rowdiness at Jacksonville High School on Thursday and rumors that teachers were taking home their personal belongings Friday in preparation for a strike may have prompted the fourth special PCSSD meeting this week—a meeting Friday in which the board took measures to attract more and better substitute teachers with increased pay.

Marty Nix, president of the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers, has promised there would be no strike during finals next week.

The board voted to hire 20 full-time “academic interventionists” at $180 a day to help give regular teachers more prep time, but also to be on hand in the event of more job actions or a strike.

Those 20 jobs will cost the district about $459,000 between now and the end of the school year.

The board voted to reward each of the 669 teachers who worked during the walkout with $50 bonuses—as long as that’s legal, according to board president Tim Clark.

The pay for substitutes was raised to $100 a day from the current pay of $55 and $75 so that in the event of a strike, it will be easier to find substitutes.

The fight and food fight at Jacksonville High School (see sidebar) may have occurred because most of the school’s teachers took a day of personal leave to support their union, resulting in 250 students sitting hours on end in the gym.

Following the incidents at the high school, Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher said he asked interim Superintendent Rob McGill to have the district be more prepared for future job actions by PACT.

Except for the arrests, and subsequent release, of the six Jacksonville High School students for fighting and throwing food, school during the district-wide, one-day teacher walkout Thursday was pretty uneventful, according to McGill.

Friday after the walkout, school appeared to have returned to normal, according to Deb Roush, the PCSSD spokesperson, but Thursday, 669 of the district’s 1,361 teachers took a day of personal leave.

About 200 of them protested, some with signs, in front of the administration building on Thursday morning in freezing temperatures before moving to the Arkansas Education Association building where they decided not to extend their action.

The teachers and support staff got most of the money and benefits they sought when the board held a special meeting Wednesday.

“It’s not about the money,” Nix said at the protest. She said the union wanted three things—recognition of the union, ratification of the contract that all but the board had signed and for the board to “follow process.”

While half the teachers stayed away from the classroom Thursday, all bus drivers reported for duty and there was no disruption in the safe and timely delivery of students, according to Gary Beck, who among other things is the transportation supervisor.

The district had notified mayors and police departments to watch for stranded children in the morning at bus stops, but the warning proved unnecessary.

The Pulaski Association of Support Staff, which represents bus drivers among others, voted Thursday evening not to undertake a strike or walkout.

For a variety of reasons, including a perceived threat against the family of board president Tim Clark, the board voted 4-2 to cease recognition of the unions. Clark, Mildred Tatum, Charlie Wood and Danny Gilliland voted the union out. Bill Vasquez and Gwen Williams voted against the motion.

Then, at an emergency board meeting Wednesday night, the four attending members—Clark, Tatum, Wood and Gilliland—voted to give employees the 2 percent pay increase they had agreed to during negotiation and to pay full health-care premium for the employees “as a gesture of goodwill.”

Those are the same four board members who attended the Friday meeting where the substitute pay increase, the academic interventionists and the bonuses for teachers who taught despite the job action were approved.

The 2 percent raises were in addition to the regular increases for longevity.

The members of the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers unanimously voted Wednesday to stay away from school Thursday, and authorized Nix to call a strike if necessary.

During the one-day walkout, 81 percent of students attended school, while half the teachers were not in the classrooms.

Out of a total enrollment of 17,860, 14,460 students were in class. Of the 1,361 teachers in the district, 669 were at work.

Fifty-four percent of all elementary school teachers came to work.

At Homer Adkins, which is a pre-kindergarten school, four of the five teachers came to work.

At Arnold Drive, only six of 18 teachers came to work.

At Pinewood Elementary, all 24 teachers came to work, while at Sherwood Elementary School, three teachers out of 25 attended, and at Sylvan Hills only four out of 31.

Among middle schools, about 35 percent of teachers reported to work, including 24 of 62 teachers at Jacksonville.

At Northwood, only 10 out of 53—that’s less than 20 percent. At Sylvan Hills, 23 of 58 teachers reported to work.

Exactly half of the district’s high school teachers came to work.

At Jacksonville High School, 34 of 82 teachers showed up. At the Star Academy, four of five came to work.

At North Pulaski High School, 27 of 65 teachers reported for duty and at Sylvan Hills High School, the number was 26 of 66.