By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer
At 7:50 p.m. Tuesday, the Pulaski County Special School District board unanimously recognized the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers, and union members who had packed the board room sprang to their feet applauding, whooping and laughing, ending two years of contentious efforts by the board to decertify the union.
A moment later, the scene was repeated with unanimous recognition of the Pulaski Association of Support Staff.
The board approved resumption of contract negotiations with both PACT and PASS.
And the good news didn’t stop there for the jubilant union members enjoying the fruits of electing their own candidates to the board in place of former board members Charlie Wood and Danny Gililland, who worked with Tim Clark and Mildred Tatum to decertify the union.
The board was reorganized with Jacksonville board member Bill Vasquez elected president, new member Gloria Lawrence of Sherwood, vice president; long-time union supporter Gwen Williams, treasurer, and Mildred Tatum, who voted reliably against the unions for the past year, was elected parliamentarian.
Board members signaled their intent to fire—or not renew the legal services contract—of Jay Bequette and Keith Billingsley, the two lawyers who helped the former, anti-union board, try to decertify the unions, running up a tab of about $250,000 in the process.
The board voted to extend their contract until the next board meeting while Superin-tendent Charles Hopson investigates hiring a staff lawyer instead of retaining general counsel and paying them by the hour.
The board did rehire Sam Jones of Mitchell, Williams, Selig, Gates and Woodyard to continue to represent the district in desegregation matters.
Mayor Gary Fletcher and nearly all Jacksonville aldermen spoke during public comments to assure the board that the people of Jacksonville favor a standalone school district, despite what Williams told them last month.
Then Rizelle Aaron spoke to say that blacks and other minorities in Jacksonville don’t want to leave PCSSD and that the Jacksonville NAACP opposes the district, in large part because they feel they’ve been snubbed by those Jacksonville activists advocating for the new district.
Jacksonville NAACP president Ivory Tillman spoke to confirm that. “We’ve been dissed,” he said. “We can’t support the Jacksonville district at this time.
HOPSON Gets Way
Hopson put his credibility on the line, proposing a consulting agreement between the district and Pacific Educational Group for $281,000, plus travel expenses.
Hopson has worked with Pacific in the Portland, Ore., School District with the aim of increasing cultural awareness and narrowing the disparity between white students on the one hand and poor and minority students on the other.
“I looked this group up online,” said Lawrence, “and I’m pretty upset. “It said Glen Singleton (Pacific Educational Group’s president) became a rich man hired to scapegoat teachers.” She said he was racist and thought only whites could be prejudiced.
“I’ve worked with him,” said Hopson. “Race is difficult to talk about.”
But he challenged the board saying, “I share some of the same philosophy and I was considered somewhat controversial.”
“This is at the heart of how I plan to move forward to address the inequities. The goals you set for me will not happen without (these consultants).”
“This is about eliminating academic and discipline disparities,” he insisted.
Hopson offered to bring Singleton to talk with them, but said he would like to move on with the program now.
“We have a long way to go and a short time to get there,” he said.
Brenda Bowles of Pupil and Equity Services reminded board members that one of the biggest shortcomings in the district’s desegregation efforts has been trying to reduce racial disparities in academics and discipline.
Singleton has already done some training of Hopson’s cabinet, and deputy Superintendent June Elliott said some things Singleton talked about were hard to hear and made her uncomfortable, but were necessary and important.
Vasquez and new board member Tom Stuthard expressed concern about spending the money on the consultants instead of books or buses, but Hopson said the money in question could only be used for professional development and was coming from shutting down other professional development programs that had proven ineffective.
Finally, Vasquez made the motion to enter into the contract with Pacific Educational Group, Tatum seconded it and it was unanimously approved. Williams had already left for work, so it was a 6-0 vote.
In other action, the board unanimously approved using US Bank procurement cards to limit, monitor and control spending, first by cabinet members, later by those who buy supplies and materials.
The board voted to satisfy one concern of the legislative auditors by discontinuing the practice of cash advance for out-of-district travel.
The board approved $90,835 for a school-level call system to allow the district and schools to e-mail, text and auto call students, parents or guardians and employees to notify them of emergencies, inclement weather notices or school events.
The board appointed Hopson as financial secretary, and chief financial officer Anita Farver as treasurer.
Originally, this agenda item also would have rehired Bequette and Bill-ingsley as general counsel and Paul Blume as the board’s counsel for hearings and meetings. Those will be reconsidered at the November meeting.
The meeting originally threatened to stretch late into the night and perhaps shift into a contentious gear to consider six agenda items that Vasquez added to new business, but he tabled those items.
Three of those items related to Vasquez’s wife, Pam, and his sister-in law, Rhonda Shillito, both of whom were hired before Vasquez ever ran for the board.
Also included was a proposal to immediately cease all legal appeals concerning PACT and to cancel any contracts for third-party legal services.
Vasquez also wanted the superintendent to make contingency plans for the loss of desegregation funds that currently total about $18 million a year. When the desegregation case ends, the extra money will likely be phased out.
He also would direct the superintendent to identify budget reduction items that could be implemented to generate at least $10 million a year for debt service to pay any new bonds for construction or improvement of Jacksonville-area facilities.