Friday, June 05, 2015

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville teachers in limbo

Leader senior staff writer

Rumor and uncertainty still drive the conversation about the just implemented dual seniority center in the new Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District, and especially how it will affect the staff in JNP schools come fall 2016.

State Education Commissioner Johnny Key recently chose that dual seniority center, proposed by Pulaski County Special School District Superintendent Jerry Guess, over the Certified Personnel Committee’s proposal, which teachers and other employees generally found more to their liking.

JNP and PCSSD now have separate seniority lists and can’t bump across district boundaries.

For the most part, it freezes staff at their current school for the 2015-16 year, and only for purposes of meeting desegregation agreement requirements will teachers and other certified employees move from JNPSD to PCSSD or vice versa.

For 2016-17, the first year JNP will operate as a standalone district, the roughly 325 licensed and 145 classified employees at those 10 schools will not be rehired by PCSSD, and they are not guaranteed employment in the new district.

Hence the unease.

“We’re going to need most all of those folks,” according to Phyllis Stewart, JNP chief of staff.

“We recognize the hard work teachers and support staff do everyday, and we want to encourage them to go through next year doing the same fine work,” Stewart said. “We encourage them all to apply to us. We value experience. We do want them.”

For the 2016-17 school year, “We hope to have all principals selected by late fall of 2015,” Stewart said. “We’ll put them on a binder.”

Then teachers and other staff could begin submitting applications right after the first of the year, she said.

Some existing principals could say, “I want all of my current people,” she noted.

Each principal will hire for his or her school.

By July 1, 2016, all staff should be on contract, Stewart said. Money will be a factor, however.

Daniel Gray, president of the JNP school board, has said the district, with an enrollment of 4,000 to 4,500 students, can’t match the salary and benefits of PCSSD, which currently has about 17,000 students.

Pam Fitzgiven, head of the certified PPC, said she had heard there were some really upset teachers.

“I assume JNPSD will want to hire the younger, less expensive teachers,” she said. “It’s a mess. It’s going to be interesting to watch it unfold.”

One teacher said, “We’ve got 10 schools full of teachers not knowing if they’ll have a job after next year.

“Experienced teachers are scrambling to go elsewhere, and you’ll lose the best teachers every time you turn around,” said the teacher, who asked not to be identified.

Even the Searcy pay schedule would represent a $6,000 drop in pay.

“All JNP teachers will have to reapply. It’s embarrassing. You’ll have a lot of new, inexperienced teachers who don’t know the kids, and who leave the profession in droves every year.”

Finally, “We already have a relationship with the parents. PCSSD can’t tell Jacksonville to hire the existing teachers, and Jacksonville’s not doing anything to calm the teachers.”

Fitzgiven said PPC has a meeting next week. She doesn’t know if there is anything actionable in the decision.

Neither does Clayton Blackstock, the lawyer who represents the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers. Blackstock said he hadn’t reviewed the decision nor talked yet with teachers and their representatives.

Key called his decision “a difficult one as it requires one to consider a number of factors including the serious concerns of the faculty and staff regarding job security, the financial viability of PCSSD as it seeks to exit fiscal distress, and how both PCSSD and JNPSD will be positioned to provide for the academic success of the students.”

In approving Guess’ proposal, Key said, “I agree with (Lindsey) Gustafson’s description of the choices as ‘ugly’.”

Gustafson is a member of the PCSSD citizen’s advisory board, which forwarded both seniority proposals to Key without a recommendation. Key, as education commissioner, serves as a one-man board for both PCSSD and JNP.

“There is no good answer here,” Guess said Thursday. “In both cases, there are negative consequences. We’re trying to protect PCSSD classrooms from the turmoil of mass bumping,” through exercise of seniority. “This is not a joyful day. It’s what PCSSD needed but not without some burden.”

JNP has said they plan to be competitive with other districts their size and Stewart said they expect to have a higher starting salary than PCSSD and maintain that through five to seven years of experience.

Comparing salaries of PCSSD and smaller districts in the area, there is a wide range. PCSSD teachers start at $32,175 but top out at $68,746, while El Dorado starts at $33,500, Vilonia at $38,580, Beebe at $39,000, Searcy at $40,100 and Cabot at $40,575.

Stewart said the administration could have a salary schedule proposal for the board by the July meeting.