Friday, November 12, 2010

TOP STORY > >PCSSD spends $1.1M on new textbooks, set to order more

By john hofheimer
Leader senior staff writer

Teachers and parents have complained about students not having textbooks in Pulaski County Special School District schools for months and as recently as Tuesday’s board meeting, but while that may have been true once, it’s no longer the case, school officials say.

The school board heard from two district teachers, both of them parents, who spoke of their frustration in trying to teach without textbooks or adequate supplies.

One, Pam Fitzgibbon, said she came as a parent, “out of concern and frustration,” over the lack of textbooks.

“We have no texts to help students achieve. The students and parents don’t have resources,” she said.

Another said, “English books are 20 years old, and we don’t have enough, and they aren’t adequate.”

She asked for teachers and parents at each school to form committees to choose textbooks—a task currently relegated to the district.

But according to June Elliott, deputy superintendent for academic accountability, “We have spent $1.14 million on textbooks since July.”

She said the only unfulfilled request currently is an order faxed yesterday for two social studies books and 25 science books—far from the dramatic shortage some have charged. “Those will be ordered,” she said Friday morning.

Elliott said the district has been focusing on more efficient tracking of books. In the past, district officials have relied on teachers and principals to report shortages and surpluses. But this year, she said, “We have had our coordinators looking in bookrooms, closets and classrooms for textbooks.

“We have moved a lot of books around this year and made a concerted effort to make sure our children have books.”

Elliott said the district was getting a barcode-scanning system that will let it know “where every book is and what every school has.”

She said it would be labor-intensive, initially, putting barcodes on every textbook used by 17,000 students in 34 schools.

A separate issue, raised at this week’s board meeting, was the 20-year-old language arts books.

She said teachers on textbook selection committees had approved and re-approved those books over the years.

Now the state Education Department is about to approve new textbooks and then vendors. The school district will make a new selection, she said, and order new books for 2011.


The board authorized Super-intendent Charles Hopson to hire a consultant for $42,500 to help develop a comprehensive, long-range strategic plan, in one of the shortest and most harmonious meetings in memory.

In telling the board members about the long-range strategic planning the district will do with the consultant, Performance Fact Inc., Hopson said the plan would include “vital signs” the district can monitor.

He said more than 100 letters to various stakeholders —including some teachers, administrators, parents, chamber members and others, including people from each of the seven districts — had been invited to participate in the strategic planning process.

Hopson said he was striving for “a sense of alignment instead of the current sense of misalignment.” He said the contractor had been involved in setting up some of the highest-performing districts in the country. “We will maximize efficiencies to our students.”

Board member Gloria Law-rence asked whether Hopson had checked with the state Education Department to see if similar services might be obtained free of charge.

“I like to go with people and organizations with proven track records,” Hopson said. “I don’t think you can get it done without paying someone.”

He said the consultant would be paid from Impact Grant money, “not out of our operating budget.”

His proposal was unanimously approved.

Performance Fact, Inc., has contracted with about 35 school districts nationwide and with the state education departments of Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.

The company has laid out a seven-month timeline to finish the three-year plan with the district.

The board approved the hiring of an information-technology consultant “to help craft and stretch telecommunications dollars and increase bandwidth,” as Derek Brown, executive director of information technology, told the board.

The new hire will pay for herself by helping file the state paperwork and getting federal funds for technology programs “that we have not taken advantage of in the past,” Hopson said.

He said the district lost out on several hundred thousand dollars that were available in the past but for which it did not apply.

Adranette Anderson was recognized as winner of the 2010 Arkansas Education Association’s Human and Civil Rights Award, as an advocate for students, teachers and paraprofessionals. Anderson is a district secondary math coordinator.


Retired Col. Derek Scott, who was hired fulltime Tuesday as executive director of operations, reported that the new high school in Maumelle is on schedule to be available for the opening of the 2011-2012 school year.

“We’re trying for a phased turnover so information technology director Derrick Brown can begin getting the building wired and set up for Internet,” Scott said.

He said he wanted to get in the new building to start training maintenance staff about the location and operation of shutoff valves and other parts of the new building’s infrastructure.

Scott said the district was taking bids on artificial turf for the new stadium.

Work on the new Sylvan Hills Middle School began three weeks late, he said, but contractors were making up time.

“We should have two of the three wings turned over to us in time for administrators, IT and maintenance to get in and familiar before the start of school,” Scott said, “as well as one of the two gymnasiums.

“We want it in time to do registration and let people see the school,” he said.

Scott said the project was currently about $193,000 over budget, but “there are several things that won’t be executed in contingencies. We’re going to come in, unless there are unforeseen circumstances, under budget.”


Bill Vasquez, the new school board president and a Jacksonville resident, told chief financial officer Anita Farver that the district had an $11 million surplus last year and that he figured it should still be “running about $5 million to the good.”

Farver said it was too early to be sure what the carryover would be. “We’re doing a lot of facilities upgrades and restaurant upgrades.” She said Hopson and Scott had “a very aggressive facilities-upgrade plan. They are chomping at the bit,” she said.

Board member Sandra Sawyer Farver asked for a quarterly upgrade.

Marty Nix, president of the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers, reported that negotiations on a new teacher contract are winding down with “very few issues left.  I’m optimistic that the board is trying to do what is best for the children of this district, instead of busting PACT.”


Teresa Perkins, instructor of the North Pulaski High School restaurant and food service program, and two of her students gave a presentation and spoke about the program. They run Simply Delicious, a restaurant at the school, with an extensive and varied menu. 

Students can earn money working in the program and train for a restaurant career.

The restaurant is 25 years old.

Currently it’s the busy season, with 120 dozen rolls ordered for the holiday season.

Sponsored by the Arkansas Hospitality Association, the restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays.

“We did market analysis and found that the Air Force base and retirees are our target market,” said Molly Charles, a student in the program. “I like getting paid to go to school.”

“We get some kind of learning, not just food and money,” said Aerial West, another student.