Friday, April 17, 2015

TOP STORY >> More time on case needed, judge says

Leader senior staff writer

District Judge D. Price Marshall on Friday declined for now to make Jacksonville-North Pulaski a party to the PCSSD desegregation case he is hearing, encouraged PCSSD to move forward on the divisive issue of seniority at the conjoined districts and warned that his court won’t be the arbitrator of detachment disagreements between the two districts.

An exception to that would be issues regarding desegregation.

Regarding the several questions brought before him, Marshall said he needed more information and documentation before ruling, deferring that until May 19 — the next desegregation status report.

John Walker, representing the Joshua Intervenors, told the judge that PCSSD had been too busy dealing with detachment issues to advance toward the goal of desegregation and unitary status. He said that violated the desegregation agreement settlement that allowed creation of the new district.

Joshua was explicitly excluded from separation issues as regard Plan 2000, Walker said.

Patrick Wilson, representing JNP, told Marshall that not all interests of the two districts were aligned and that JNP sought to be named a party to the case before Marshall.

PCSSD told Marshall that he had nearly characterized the relationship between PCSSD, the state and JNP as adversarial, but toned it down to “not aligned.” Marshall said he wasn’t convinced yet that Jacksonville needed to be made a party to the proceeding, but suggested they might, nonetheless, be represented by separate council.

Two examples would be the separate seniority tracks and also whether or not and how $20.8 million — the final state desegregation money — would be decided between the two districts. The problem has bogged down division of assets and liabilities as the two districts work to disengage.

Walker told the court that the Joshua Intervenors had been excluded from talks and negotiations regarding division of assets and liabilities between the two districts, and asked for discovery, but Marshall said the parties could probably work that out together and directed Wilson and Roberts to include Walker in subsequent meetings and negotiations.

Walker has defined the desegregation elements of these issues more broadly than the PCSSD and JNP, holding that division of desks and computers are subject to desegregation goals as part of facilities.

Mark Burnett, representing certified personnel in PCSSD, said the Personnel Policy Committee rejected Superintendent Jerry Guess’ proposal to create two separate seniority tracks for the two districts, pretty much keeping teachers at existing schools. He said the PPC would offer its own seniority proposal within a week.

In closing, Marshall said: “This is a nuanced and complicated matter; I’m not sure there’s clear answers.

“The new district both is and is not separate in many ways. I’m not sure what status it should have going forward.

“I don’t see wrongdoing or scheming,” Marshall said. “I see administrations in transition, busy in legislation, new leadership in the education department…You’ve come to terms on so many things. I’m hopeful the issues can be resolved or at least sharpened to where there is a point of law.

“I’m going to let the uncertainty wash over us,” Marshall said. “I’ll scratch my head over the role and status of the new district.”

Marshall also asked for briefs and responses within 10 days for the May 19 status hearing.