Friday, October 19, 2012

TOP STORY >> PCSSD: ‘Substantial progress’

Leader senior staff writer

The Pulaski County Special School District — “made substantial progress implementing its fiscal distress improvement plan” over the 2011-2012 school year, acting Superintendent Jerry Guess told about a dozen school patrons at the district’s annual report Thursday night.

But to continue building new schools, updating old ones and implementing appropriate information technology, eventually PCSSD will have to ask district voters to increase property taxes, Guess said.

The district is in fiscal distress for a declining carryover balance and was taken over by the state Board of Education.

“One of the district’s primary financial challenges is to provide adequate funding to properly maintain and improve its 3.6 million square feet of buildings. The district recently committed $7.5 million of its building-fund balance to districtwide improvements of academic facilities,” Guess said.

“This was approximately half of the building fund, which is nonrecurring revenue. Once these funds are depleted, the district’s operating fund will be the only source available for building maintenance and improvements.

“Without new revenue, increasing the amount spent on facilities can only come at the expense of other programs. At some point, it will likely be necessary to ask district taxpayers to approve a higher tax rate if PCSSD is to compete favorably with surrounding districts, which have substantially higher tax rates.”

The district has strengthened business procedures, intensified budget controls and implemented cost-cutting strategies, Guess told those attending the meeting.

He said through cost-cutting measures, which include cutting teachers’ overall compensation and benefits, the district will build its legal fund balance (end-of-year carryover balance) to an appropriate level and will position itself to survive the eventual loss of about $20 million a year in desegregation funding.

Under the current budget plan, Guess said the district will save $13 million a year over the next three years and the legal fund balance should grow from its $4 million level on June 30, 2011, to $22 million on June 30, 2015.

Two days before Guess’ annual report, the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers announced a unanimous vote of no confidence in Guess, Gov. Mike Beebe and state Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell. Kimbrell dissolved the district school board, nullified employee contracts, fired the late Supt. Charles Hopson and hired Guess.

Unions for the teachers and the support staff say much of the cost cutting was achieved by illegally voiding their contracts, and they have sued the state, the district, Guess and Kimbrell in Pulaski County Circuit Court.

Teachers say they have lost years worth of hard-negotiated benefits in addition to current and future pay, authorized Brenda Robinson, PACT’s acting president, to call a job action up to and including a strike.

“I don’t know what they mean by a job action,” Guess said Thursday. “But I would simply say we’re having a remarkably good year. Enrollment yesterday was 418 more than a year ago, we have a balanced budget, and we’re growing our legal fund balance by half a million dollars, if we can stick to it.”

Guess said the district is doing things it hasn’t done in years, like buying new buses, remodeling and rehabilitating many of the worst schools, implementing common core curricula and providing professional development and teacher evaluation.