Leader Blues

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

TOP STORY >> Teachers union files suit

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

The Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers sued the Pulaski County Special School District in Circuit Court on Tuesday for breech of contract, the latest move in the ongoing struggle between the two sides.

“This is very disappointing,” said interim Superintendent Rob McGill. “The board made some tough decisions. We’re educating students every day.”

“We discovered the suit about 7 o’clock,” said McGill.

“We believe that the board did have the right to do what it did. We’re confident…the judge will also agree to that.”

McGill said he thought teachers were unlikely to strike while the matter is in court.

He said the district’s attorney, Jay Bequette, told him “we should be able to win the case.”

Sixth District Circuit Judge Tim Fox will preside over the suit.

The board made many irrational decisions and violated the old contract, still in effect, PACT President Marty Nix said.

After seven months of contract talks, negotiators for both sides had agreed on a five-year contract retroactive to the beginning of this school year, union teachers had ratified the contract and entered the board meeting a week ago Tuesday expecting the board to ratify the contract as well.

But the board refused to sign off on the contract by a 4-2 vote.

Union spokesmen reacted angrily, prompting the board to call a special meeting later that same night. Board members stripped both PACT and the support staff union, PASS, of recognition as the employees bargaining agents.

The board called another special meeting Wednesday afternoon to give employees the raises and benefits they sought, but still declining to ratify the contract.

Thursday morning, teachers walked off the job, leaving only about half the teachers working.

Nix promised not to strike this week—finals week.

After the walkout by about half of the district’s teachers, the school board moved to hire 20 “academic interventionists” or full-time substitutes to work in 20 of the district’s schools.

The move will give teachers more time for lesson planning, and to be on hand when substitutes are needed, according to PCSSD spokesperson Deborah Roush.

An average of 110 teachers are absent from work every day.

Roush called the hiring of the interventionists “a very-well streamlined process.”

On Friday, dozens of certified teachers who had expressed interest in working as teachers or substitutes were notified of the job openings.

By 7 a.m. Saturday, they were at district headquarters to fill out paperwork, she said. Applicants were interviewed by a panel of three and their credentials were checked.

They filled out background check information and by Monday afternoon, they were at work in the schools, Roush said.

Those teachers are being paid $180 a day. Regular substitute pay is $55 a day for non-certified and $75 a day for certified teachers.

At a special meeting Friday, the board raised pay for substitutes working strikes to $100 a day.