Tuesday, March 06, 2012

TOP STORY >> Unions sue PCSSD to stop end run

Leader senior staff writer

Against the backdrop of ongoing cost-cutting negotiations and mediation between the Pulaski County Special School District and its two employee unions, the unions have sued to deny two just-formed personnel policy committees from exercising any authority.

“The plaintiffs are entitled to an order declaring that the committee to which the defendants allegedly have been elected is invalid and the committee and the defendants have none of the rights, powers or privileges,” according to language in each of the two suits.

The district and the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers and the Pulaski Association of Support Staff are renegotiating the existing contracts as the district seeks to come out of fiscal distress by cutting the 2012-13 budget by $13.5 million compared to the budget passed a year ago.

The district and the teachers have agreed on about $6.5 million in cuts, including decreasing the district’s contribution to health care and teachers agreeing not to seek raises, but that leaves the district seeking to cut another $7 million from the district’s $170 million budget.

Because 80 percent of the district’s budget is salaries, it is likely that Superintendent Jerry Guess and chief financial officer Bill Goff hope to get most of that money from salaries and benefits of teachers, support staff and administrators.

Guess and Goff say they want an $8 million legal fund balance (carryover), but the teachers are likely to identify that as a place to cut.

Mediation resumes this morning.

But before the personnel-policy committees met for the first time, the two unions are claiming that the two committees are illegal and improper because union contracts are already in force, because ineligible people helped deliver ballots and because they weren’t formed in October (support staff) or during the first quarter of the school year (teachers) as required by law.

Both suits were filed Monday afternoon by the Mitchell Blackstock law firm and contain essentially the same language.

In Circuit Judge Wendell Griffin’s court, plaintiffs PASS, Lonnie Coney and Belinda Pearl are suing support staff personnel policy committee members Keith Cooper, Cheryl Howey, Regena English, Becky Del Rio and James Watson.

In the other suit, filed in Circuit Judge Mary McGowen’s court, PACT is joined by Judy Stockrahm and Loveida Ingraham as plaintiffs, seeking declaratory judgement against defendants Robin Dorey, Callie Matthews,Kristina Laughy and Ella Sergeant.

PCSSD may have been expecting to rescind its recognition of the unions as bargaining agents—which could be easy because the district is in fiscal distress and the state Education Department dissolved the board, making Education Com-missioner Tom Kimbrell a one-man board.

The district may be hoping it can negotiate with a pair of personnel policy committees that may be less hardened in their positions than the unions.

Most districts negotiate contracts with such committees, but state law says that where unions have been elected to represent employees, the unions are the bargaining agents.