Friday, February 17, 2012

TOP STORY >> PCSSD, unions feared heading for showdown on work rules

Leader senior staff writer

When the Pulaski County Special School District and the two unions representing its employees begin renegotiating union contracts, the unions want to limit talks to salary and benefits.

The administration, however, wants to consider changes to generous, sometimes lucrative work rules the unions have won over the years. The the goal is to extricate PCSSD from fiscal distress and the projected $13.6 million deficit it faces for the 2012-2013 school year,

PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess says by law, changes may be made to parts of the contract without voiding the entire agreement. He wants to cut two days pay a year and revisit rules that he believes overpay teachers for lunch, playground and bus-loading duty and a leave policy far more generous than the state requires.

Both sides have agreed to begin negotiations at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday and the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers and the Pulaski Association of Support Staff have asked the district to provide extensive information regarding personnel, compensation, staffing at individual schools and end-of-year legal fund balances, to name a few. The letter requesting the data had 35 separate requests.

PCSSD—in fiscal distress since May for mismanagement, fraud, lack of financial oversight and transparency and improper payments to some board members—received a second fiscal distress designation Monday by the state Board of Education for declining legal fund balance—essentially ever-decreasing carryover.

Had the district not been the beneficiary of about $15 million in a one-time property-tax payment, the district would have finished this year roughly $4 million in the red.

The first fiscal-distress designation resulted in the state taking over the district, dissolving the school board, firing the superintendent. Tom Kimbrell, head of the state Education Department, became a de facto one-man board.

Guess and Chief Financial Officer Bill Goff have identified about $6.7 million in potential savings, mostly by cutting 77 jobs and by reducing by half the district’s contribution to employee health care. Currently, the district pays the entire $271 monthly premium, which is more than twice the $131 the state requires.


In virtually identical letters sent to PACT president Marty Nix and PASS president Emry Chesterfield, Guess wrote: “The administration proposes modification of the entire agreement in order to comply with the Arkansas Department of Education fiscal distress removal mandate.

“That mandate is that the district negotiate with (PACT and PASS) changes in the …compensation package set forth in the (PACT and PASS) agreement that will result in substantial economic savings,” Guess wrote in response to letters from Nix and from Chesterfield.

But Guess interprets a more far-ranging mandate, writing: “The district is also directed by ADE to negotiate changes in employee work rules now established by that agreement which modifications will accomplish substantial increases in operational efficiency and flexibility. We will be prepared with a more contract-language, specific proposal at the beginning of negotiation.”


Guess, who has threatened to implement changes unilaterally if the unions don’t cooperate—without citing authority to do so—warns Nix and Chesterfield:

“These negotiations are going to be regressive. Contract negotiations can be relatively pleasant when the subject is how to divide excess money between parties. On the other hand, it’s never fun to negotiate how much each party must pay to cover unanticipated losses. I promise that I’ll approach these negotiations with an open mind and positive attitude about success.”

He has suggested reducing the length of the teacher and support-staff contracts from 192 days a year to the state minimum 190 days a year, a move that could save about $800,000 next school year.

The unions say they want to know what the saving would be if all employees, including year-round employees like the superintendent, worked 192 days.

“Dr. Guess inherited a lot of financial and other problems,” Nix said Friday.

But she says the burden of balancing the budget should fall not only on the teachers and support staff, but also on central office and other administrators.


“Everyone but the students should be affected,” Nix said. “We are in this together.”

Nix said she hoped likely cuts to salary and benefits could be confined to the 2012-2013 school year.

Judging by the information sought by the unions, they may challenge the amount of legal fund carryover PCSSD needs to accrue by the end of next school year. They have asked for information regarding those balances. A lower legal fund balance would result in fewer cuts.

The unions and the PCSSD administration have a long, often acrimonious history, with school board members sometimes out to boost the fortunes of the employees through the unions that represent them and other times trying to decertify the unions as employee bargaining agents.

The two unions may be the most powerful in Arkansas education, along with the Arkansas Education Association, and in recent years had taken to recruiting and supporting candidates for the school board.


The unions asked the district for information in 35 areas before the beginning of negotiations, the first of which was the amount of savings  to the district if every employee worked a 192 day contract year.

Guess and Goff insist the district could save $800,000 by cutting the teacher’s contract year to 190.

PACT and PASS want a list of all contract employees who have resigned, retired or been terminated during the fiscal year—including name, position, salary and work location.

They also wants a list of attorneys who, for the current year, received compensation from PCSSD, by name, amount and fund from which each is paid.

They requested a printout that shows the name, position, salary and location of every employee working in the district, projected staffing allocations for the approaching school year.


The unions also requested budget information sheets identifying and describing current year expenditures, as well as revenue summaries for various revenues.

They request identification of the 77 positions to be eliminated as part of cost reduction strategies.

They want seniority lists for teachers, administrators and support staff, an organizational chart for central office, including salary and fringe benefits for each central office employee; a list of bus drivers who receive supplement pay for special runs, field trips and more.

Also a list of employees assigned to each school by name and assignment; a list of administrators’ salary schedule, supplement salary and a copy of the superintendent’s contract as well as a copy of the contract for each member of the superintendent’s cabinet.

Also, the cost of salary and step increases for each employee group, student enrollment per school, per class enrollment for each school and also a list of everyone who has been hired as a consultant, adviser, negotiator, temporary hearing panelist since the state takeover the amount paid.

“Thank you in advance for your assistance and we look forward to working collaboratively with you and the district’s negations team to reach an agreement that maintains and protects the well-being of our teaching and support personnel while continuing to achieve the highest possible standards for PCSSD students,” Nix and Chesterfield wrote.