Tuesday, August 24, 2010

TOP STORY > >Two sides in PCSSD negotiate again

Leader staff writer

The Pulaski County Special School District and the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers resumed negotiations Tuesday to resolve their differences.

Marty Nix, president of PACT, and board member Danny Gililland, representing the school board, along with the superintendent, Dr. Charles Hopson, along with others negotiated for two hours.

They said progress had been made and the sides appeared closer.

Short of an agreement, there will be a court hearing today in Little Rock to determine PACT’s lawsuit over longer school hours.

The union says the changes to the school day violate its contract. The judge’s ruling in the case may supersede any plans Hopson may come up with.

Deb Roush, a spokeswoman for the PCSSD, said the superintendent would look at traffic flows and hazards, parent concerns and other issues, and may make some changes soon, but more than likely at the end of the semester, unless a court ruling dictates otherwise.

Gililland called the negotiation very productive. “We had a good discussion and spent time getting to know each other and the process and setting ground rules.”

He said one idea that came out of the meeting that Hopson will put into practice is monthly meetings between the PACT team and Hopson and his cabinet. “During the meeting today, we found out that the meetings were held back when Bobby Lester was superintendent, and PACT members said it was very help. Dr. Hopson liked the idea and plans to start the meetings back again.”

“I’m just glad we are moving forward,” said Gililland.

The district, about a week before school, changed the bell schedule from what it had been the last few years to an earlier start time for elementary students (7:30 a.m.) and a later start time for secondary schools (8:30 a.m.). After parents complained loudly, the district reversed itself, making secondary schools start earlier and elementary schools start later.

The district has put together an online survey to help get parents input on the bell schedules. Parents can take the survey at www.pcssd.org.

An attempt Friday night and early this week to possibly change the bell schedule again failed when the PCSSD board could not get enough of its members to attend a hastily called meeting.

Board president Tim Clark of Maumelle said he could get only two more people to agree to meet — Charlie Wood and Gilliland, both of Sherwood.

Clark said he and other school officials have been inundated with complaints from parents after school started Thursday with an earlier starting time than the district used in the 2009-10 school year that ended in the spring.

In a letter to parents on Friday, Hopson, said, “While I know I can never please everyone with decisions I make as an instructional leader and superintendent, I want to be responsive as possible to the schools where traffic and other extenuating factors are creating extreme hardships. I hope all of you realize it is never my intention to make your lives difficult as I seek to position this district to provide a world-class experience for every student.”

He said he had visited a number of schools and talked to parents who were “extremely elated about the new schedule and others who shared hardships” with him.

Hopson said he will also look at options with the district’s transportation department. “Or limitation with our current transportation system is that the same bus and driver transport both the secondary and elementary students, and the window for our bell schedule is determined by the roughly 700 square miles the drivers must cover to get all students to school on time.”

“The question,” he said in the letter, “related to the additional 40 minutes for elementary schools is simply one of aligning our district for federal and state mandates that are looming for either increased instructional minutes during the day or a longer school year.”