Tuesday, July 13, 2010

TOP STORY > >Board weighs next move on judge’s ruling

Leader staff writer

Officials for the Pulaski County Special School District are conferring with attorneys and pondering options after a judge ruled Monday that the district has violated state law in its latest efforts to cut off the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers as the collective bargaining agent for district teachers and do away with existing personnel policies and teacher contracts.

Judge Tim Fox of Pulaski County Circuit Court Sixth District responded to two related lawsuits, one filed by PACT and a class-action suit by five teachers on behalf of all PCSSD certified personnel.

The suits challenged actions by the PCSSD school board to replace the union with a committee made up of teachers and administrators by June 30 and institute a new set of personnel policies and teacher contracts, effective July 1.

Fox found there “was no just and reasonable cause for the PCSSD board’s vote on May 17, 2010 to terminate the plaintiffs’ contracts.”

While Fox ruled that the district, by state law, has the authority to terminate recognition of the union, but “the vote of April 20, 2010 is declared null and void, and the professionally negotiated agreement remains in effect between the parties.”

Fox had ruled in April that a prior board vote on Dec. 8 to decertify was null and void because of the same reason he ruled as he did Monday – that the board failed to “have in place a written policy agreement with an organization representing the majority of teachers or a Committee on Personnel Policies together with written personnel policies.”

Fox ordered both sides to participate in mediation to work out the terms of the contract and other differences and to reach resolution by August 2. All school board members, PACT officers and members of the newly formed personnel policies committee (PPC) must take part.

Marty Nix, PACT president, said that she was not surprised by the ruling and is ready to engage in mediation.

“That the contract remains in effect is what we have argued the whole time,” Nix said. “There is a process and the district has to follow it just like everybody else. We’ve always been willing to talk.”

In a statement released Monday, school board president Tim Clark said: “We received the judge’s ruling this afternoon. It is lengthy and requires review by our board and attorneys to determine what the district’s next step in this process will be.”

Two weeks ago, when asked if he would want to appeal an unfavorable ruling from Fox rather than respect it as the court’s clarification of state law on the matter, Clark said, “It will be up to the board to decide.”

Clark, along with board members Danny Gililland, Mildred Tatum and Charlie Wood, voted in April to withdraw recognition of the union. Sandra Sawyer, Bill Vasquez and Gwen Williams opposed the measure.

The same four board members voted to withdraw recognition of PACT on Dec. 8 and move forward with establishing a PPC.

In a statement released Monday, Lyle Zuckerman, the Manhattan lawyer recently hired by the district to help with the lawsuit, said he favored going ahead with an appeal.

He blamed teachers for delaying the process for getting the PPC in place sooner. He suggested that should be a reason for a higher court to side with the district.

“The court kept the union agreement in effect only because of a technical-timing issue,” Zuckerman said. “The board has not made a decision whether to appeal, but I believe that the appellate court should have an opportunity to review it, including that it was PACT and certain teachers that caused the technical timing snafu.”

Last month the board hired Zuckerman to assist with the lawsuits because of his experience in representing management in tough labor disputes.


According to law, a PPC must have 10 days to review any written personnel policies before ratification by a school board.

Instead, the PCSSD board on April 20 approved an “operating agreement with classroom teachers” – in effect, a new set of personnel policies to replace those in the PNA – although district teachers had not reviewed or adopted the agreement.

On June 27, elections were held for the five teacher representatives for the PPC. The three administration representatives are to be appointees of the superintendent.

Fox declared that the district, in its formation of a PPC on June 27, had “established a properly constituted (PPC), but it did not have a set of written policies established in either strict or substantial conformance with Arkansas law.”

“The PCSSD Board had no legal authority in April, 2010 or at any time prior to establishment of the Committee on Personnel Policies to adopt or revise any personnel policies,” Fox ruled.

“Further, after establishment of the Committee on Personnel Policies on Sunday, June 27, 2010, the ten-working day submission requirement deprived the PCSSD Board of any legal authority to vote on policies or policy amendments until well after June 30, 2010.”

Therefore, the current contract will remain in effect for the 2010-11 school year, unless a majority of teachers vote to replace it sooner with a new set of policies. That is unlikely because the majority of teachers are union members and do not welcome the institution of a PPC.


Fox came down hard on the board for its leaving teachers out of the process of setting the policies by which they are to do their jobs and be evaluated.

He notes the repercussions for districts who fail to adhere to the statutory requirements governing promulgation of policies that affect its certified employees.

“Even a cursory review of the Legislature’s statutory enactments codified as A.C.A. §6-17-201, et seq., evidences the significance of the “personnel policies” themselves, the participation of the Committee on Personnel Policies in drafting and propounding those policies, and the substantial involvement awarded by the General Assembly to teachers in participating in the establishment of personnel policies,” the ruling stated.

The ruling goes on to say that any school district that fails to have either a set of personnel policies or a professionally negotiated agreement with its teachers risks loss of state funding or accreditation.