Friday, June 22, 2012

TOP STORY >> Unions ask governor to intervene in PCSSD fight

Leader staff writer

The teacher and support staff unions have petitioned Gov. Mike Beebe to step in and tell Pulaski County Special School District administrators that they needs to recognize and work with the unions.

A petition signed by nearly 1,600 people, along with hundreds of personal comments, was mailed to the governor Wednesday.

It asks him to “direct Dr. (Tom) Kimbrell (Arkansas education commissioner) to order Dr. (Jerry) Guess (the district superintendent) to restore recognition to PACT and PASS, return to the negotiating table and work with the unions to resolve the current crisis.”

The governor is on his way to France for a seven-day agricultural and economic development visit and won’t be back until next Saturday.

Stacey Hall of the governor’s office said Beebe had not received the petition as of Friday afternoon, but that the governor would definitely review it on his return.

The petition goes on to say that if Kimbrell or Guess won’t work with the unions, then the governor should fire them or “direct both men to seek employment elsewhere.”

The petition states, “A crisis exists in the PCSSD due to severe fiscal irresponsibility on the part of past and present PCSSD administrators and school boards. The man currently at the top of the organization, Superintendent Jerry Guess, is costing taxpayers more than $261,000 — for the current school year alone — and 56 others in the PCSSD also cost taxpayers in excess of $100,000 per year, each.”

The petition said that none of those 57 individuals are classroom teachers or support staff.

The unions claim it was “incredible that district administrators refuse to take cuts to their own exorbitant salaries, yet expect teachers to sacrifice large portions of theirs.”

“It is also shameful,” the petition states, “that the PCSSD’s legal fees for the current school year are already in excess of one-third of a million dollars — and climbing — simply to defend actions which were illegal and/or unethical, from the start.”

The unions tell the governor through the petition that only teachers are being forced to give up contracted work days and that taxpayers and parents no longer have a voice in the district because the school board consists of just one person, the commissioner of education.

“We, the teachers, certainly understand that we have to accept cuts in the number of days on our current (contract). What we are not willing to accept is for the teachers to shoulder the brunt of the cuts,” the petition said.

The petition implores the governor to “take a closer look at this inequitable situation that has been created by Dr. Jerry Guess and Dr. Tom Kimbrell.”

About 90 percent of people signing the petition, either directly or from the Internet, are from Arkansas. Additionally, people from Florida, New York, Utah, Great Britain, Ecuador and India have signed on in support of the unions.

Among the hundreds of comments attached to the petition was this one from Jerry Cookus: “One of the most asinine assumptions popular in many political circles is that teachers cannot manage themselves. Here is a situation where teachers did not have a chance to fiscally manage themselves, yet they are first in line to be fiscally disciplined for a problem they did not cause. This is unjust.”

Dan Scott commented, “How can we justify paying astronomical salaries to a superintendent and state commissioner of education, while contemplating taking away labor unions, cutting employee pay and breaking legal contracts that are legally binding through 2015? It is disgraceful when the ‘chiefs’ begin attacking their own ‘warriors.’”

Grace Leavitt implored, “How can you be making these cuts to teachers? Don’t you see the connection between these cuts and the negative impacts they will have on students? There is no logic to this? And it is just plain wrong!”

According to Pam Fitz-given, “Thirty-five years of mismanagement by greedy and ignorant administrations are to blame. Stop blaming the teachers and work legally with them.”

Kerry Bowman added, “It is hard enough to find good teachers and now we want to take money away from the ones that we have. What incentive does that give the next generation to want to be educators? Where are our priorities?”

Cyndia McEwen was succinct: “PCSSD has been fiscally irresponsible for many, many years. Now to cover their butts, they are stripping teachers of their hard-working money while they sit back and continue to collect theirs. This is ridiculous.”