Tuesday, August 17, 2010

TOP STORY > >District, teachers continue to battle

Leader senior staff writer

Pulaski County Special School District’s teachers will vote on proposed personnel-policy changes today, but the district’s teachers’ union late yesterday afternoon filed yet another lawsuit against the district, according to its attorney Clayton Blackstock.

The suit claims that a bonus offered by the board, if teacher approve the changes, is void. It would require a change in the district’s personnel policy. Furthermore, Blackstock said that the personnel- policies committee that proposed the changes being voted upon is not valid for this school year. It was elected last school year.

Blackstock said the suit could be moot, because he believes it’s unlikely that a majority of the teachers will approve the changes. Many more than half of the teachers are members of the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers, and a “yes” vote would nullify the union.

“They are going to vote for a one-time bonus and give up the right to have the union negotiate for them?” Blackstock asked. He said PACT has gotten great salaries and benefits for the teachers for 20 years and they wouldn’t want to vote that away.

Both the personnel-policies committee and the board sweetened the pot by promising a bonus—not a raise—of $1,100 to $1,800 if the personnel-policy changes were approved. “That would be a long-term disaster for the teachers,” Blackstock said.

PACT members scoffed at the bonus offer Monday night, calling it a transparent bribe.

PACT president Marty Nix said after the meeting that the union would not strike or walk out.

That said, the proposed changes have several teacher-friendly amendments and steers clear of some of the trickier questions, such as that of bellschedules and length of the school day.

To take effect, the policy must be approved by most certified personnel, not just a majority of those voting, according to the district’s attorney, Jay Bequette.

Board members Bill Vasquez and Gwen Williams fought tooth and nail to prevent the vote, invoking Circuit Judge Tim Fox’s most recent ruling.

Vasquez said the judge ruled that the professional ne-gotiations agreement—the contract—between PACT and PCSSD remained in effect, that the personnel-policies committee couldn’t present the changes to personnel policies now, nor could any policies take affect for the school year that starts Thursday.

Fox has ruled in the past that the board had improperly revoked PACT’s authority to negotiate for the teachers, that the district had not followed the law in forming its personnel policy committee and that it had not properly passed a set of personnel policies.

Bequette countered, saying that state law allows a majority of the teachers to approve immediate changes to the policies, and to implement those changes for the current school year.

Vasquez had the meeting interrupted to get copies of Fox’s order for each of the board members, then read several minutes worth of the order aloud during the reconvened meeting.

Vasquez said he thought the order proved that the PNA negotiated between the teachers and the district for 2006—2009 remained in effect and therefore it was improper and wrong, if not illegal, for the board or the certified personnel to approve changes to the personnel policies.

Those policies only exist in the absence of a contract, and he said Fox had ruled that the contract remained in effect.

The meeting was contentious, with the room packed with PACT members and media. Williams, who has voted against the union’s interest only once in several years, told her fellow board members that the teachers must have the proposed changes 10 days before voting whether or not to approve them.

She said Wednesday’s vote would fall far short of that mark. The PACT members were vocal, standing and cheering Vasquez and Williams, making derisive comments aimed at other board members and laughing at times. Several times, other board members asked security to quiet them.

“Things must be done de-cently,” Vasquez said. “We’re not sovereigns here, we’re surrogates.”

After board members Tim Clark, Charlie Wood, Danny Gililland and Mildred Tatum outvoted Vasquez and Williams to accept the personnel-policies committee’s report, teachers filed out into the parking lot where they displayed signs, chanted 36 days (until the school board election), sang “Na Na Na Na, Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey Hey, goodbye.”

They are hoping to unseat board members Wood of Sher-wood and Gililland of north Pulaski County and replace them with more union-friendly board members. The school board elections will be Sept. 21.

Vasquez followed them out to the parking lot, where he led the group in prayer.

Earlier in the meeting, he said he would reveal his prejudices, saying, “I’m a Christian man, a Reagan Republican and a proud American.”