Wednesday, June 09, 2010

TOP STORY>>Good news slighted by union fight

Leader staff writer

At the school board meeting Tuesday of the Pulaski County Special School District, educators celebrated leaps in scores on Benchmark exams in both literacy and math that exceeded state averages, as well as more than $11 million in college scholarships to graduating seniors. But the meeting was marred by angry outbursts over the board decision to end recognition of the union.

During the public-comment period, a parent of a Sylvan Hills Middle School student speaking out against board actions in recent months and costs of associated legal services, was cut short by school board president Tim Clark.

Parent Dawn Jackson told the board that she was “very unhappy” that the board’s decision in December – and again in April – to end recognition of the Pulaski County Association of Classroom Teachers was “costing the district tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.”
Jackson said her efforts recently to communicate with Clark about the reason for the board’s decision were unsatisfactory.

“He only said, ‘It got personal’ and that was not good enough,” Jackson said.

At that point, Clark cut short Jackson, indicating her time was up.

“You have already broken the rules,” Clark bristled. “You need to be respectful to the board and not mention names.”

Jackson said she was not sure what rules she had broken, then implored the board to reconsider their actions.

“I am sick about this money being spent needlessly,” Jackson said as she headed to her seat. “Teachers don’t want to be in a lawsuit, but they are backed into a corner.”


PACT president Marty Nix, next to speak in public comment, told Clark, “Grow up,” adding that his treatment of Jackson was the reason why the teachers were in a lawsuit.

Clark told her, “Your presentation is over, thank you.”

As Nix was escorted by security from the board meeting room, she told Clark, “We’ll see you in court.”

Clark called a 20-minute recess.

Outside in the administration building lobby, as she answered reporters’ questions, Jackson said she was shaking with anger.

“The fact is, it’s a personal matter – some board members got their feelings hurt, like they did with me,” Jackson said.

Jackson, who is a lawyer, explained that she became interested in the litigation stemming from the board’s decision to sever ties with the union, when her son, Sam Peoples talked about how the teachers were affected.

“Their morale was really low,” Jackson said. “They were down-trodden.

“I was curious to understand what happened. This is a black mark on the district.”

Jackson said she has spent a lot of time sifting through the teacher contract, the tentative agreement that the board rejected in December as well as the lawsuits, motions and counter-motions filed since then.


Jackson has created a website,, because she feels that the news media are not getting the full story out about the board’s decision to end recognition of PACT as the collective bargaining agent for PCSSD teachers.

“My goal is to get information out to the public,” Jackson said.

The website contains a petition for school patrons to sign who want to cast a “vote of no confidence” for the four board members who voted to end union recognition. In four days, more than 400 individuals have signed the petition, Jackson said.

Jackson said that she has made a request according to the state Freedom of Information Act to obtain records of legal costs associated with the ongoing legal battle between the union and the district over the decision to end union recognition.

“What really angers me is to see them treat parents like that,” said Nix about her angry words with Clark. “‘Grow up’ are the two words that literally came to my mind. Parents getting information are finally getting a little upset.”

After the break, Clark explained why he had stopped Jackson from speaking.

“With all due respect to the parent who spoke tonight, the lady who spoke runs the web site for PACT support. When everybody realizes why we are here – for the children, not the union – we’ll all grow as a board.”


The board voted 5-2 to adopt a thick book of personnel policies to replace existing policies negotiated with the teachers’ union, which the district says will no longer represent PCSSD teachers as of June 30.

The vote is another step in a process that began with a board vote last December and another in April to withdraw recognition of PACT as the collective bargaining agent for teachers and replace it with a personnel policies committee (PPC).

In April, the board also voted to non-renew teacher contracts, which are based on policies contained in the agreement negotiated with the union and replace contracts based on the new policies.

The union, which has represented district teachers for 20 years, has challenged the board’s actions with two lawsuits. One filed in January contends that the district is bound to the existing contract with the union and accordingly must negotiate a successor agreement rather than forge new contracts on its own.

The most recent suit was filed Friday in the Sixth Division in Pulaski County Circuit Court by five teachers employed by PCSSD – Judy Stockholm, Cheryl Carpenter, Ben Belton, Loveida Ingram and Brenda Robinson.


The 95-page class action complaint, filed on behalf of more than 600 PCSSD teachers, contends that the board’s action to use the Arkansas Teacher Fair Dismissal Act as a basis for non-renewal of the contracts violated state law.

“Under the TFDA, a school board can only non-renew the contracts of non-probationary teachers (those with three or more years of experience) based on valid reduction in force, incompetent performance, repeated or material neglect of duty, conduct which materially interferes with the continued performance of the teacher’s teaching duties or other just and reasonable cause, Ark. Code Ann. 6-17-1510(b),” the complaint states.

“The stated reason for the non-renewal – that a new set of replacement policies will be adopted – is not just or reasonable. The non-renewal is not just and reasonable because it amounts to a breach by the District of the PNA which provides that the PNA shall remain in effect until a successor agreement is negotiated with PACT.”

Further, the suit argues that the board’s decision to push ahead with the formation of a PPC in June violates not only state law governing the process for policy changes and contracts, but also the district’s own policies.

The district is ignoring the two lawful options for changing policies affecting teachers, the complaint states – either negotiate with PACT any changes to the existing professional negotiations agreement, or wait until the first quarter of the next school year to move forward with establishment of a PPC, as stated in existing district policy.

“In the event a school district has a written agreement with an organization to negotiate personnel policies, it must negotiate changes to the policies for them to become a part of the teachers’ contracts,” the complaint states.

In the event that a contract is not in place, the complaint continues, “teachers must form and elect a personnel policies committee in the first quarter of the school year and then set a schedule of meetings throughout the year to consider changes or additions to the policies,” in accord with Arkansas Code Ann. 6-17-202.

The board is in violation of state law “because 1,200 teachers cannot be forced into the process of forming a PPC in the last month of school (when almost all teachers will be off for the summer) when the law provides that the teachers are to form a PPC in the first quarter of the school year and then have the entire year to set meetings and review proposed changes or additions to policies.”


Nix said she was “absolutely amazed” that the board was so quick to adopt a set of policies that is almost 200 pages long, when in December it rejected 42 pages of policies with amendments approved by the negotiators.

“They didn’t have time to read that but they did read 196 pages of ridiculous babble.”

At the end of the meeting during the board members’ comment period, Charlie Wood said that he wanted teachers to know that his support for ending the relationship with PACT “is nothing personal against teachers. “It is a matter of principle and how I believe an organization should be run.”

Board member Danny Gililland said that despite the deep difference that divide the district and teachers, the news of test score advances and scholarship offerings should be a reminder that “our kids are still learning and that we are doing much right in our schools every day. We don’t want to forget that.”