Tuesday, October 18, 2016

TOP STORY >> Women run for post on PCSSD

Leader senior staff writer

A pair of long-time educators, both of whom say they have the best interests of parents, teachers and students at heart, will be on the ballot to represent Sherwood on the Pulaski County Special School District Board, Zone 3, on the Nov. 8 general election.

Both women say they want Sherwood to form its own school district, just as Jacksonville has done, but an existing agreement approved by the state and U.S. District Judge Price Marshall stipulates that only Jacksonville can detach from PCSSD until PCSSD and Jacksonville are declared unitary in all areas.

The PCSSD board was dissolved in 2011, when the state took control of the district for being in fiscal distress and since that time, the director of the state Education Department has served as a one-man school board with non-binding counsel from an appointed community advisory board.

PCSSD voters will choose seven members on Nov. 8 to populate its first elected board since 2011 to replace a state-controlled advisory board.

Gloria Lawrence, 62, had been on the school board only three months when the state took over. “I wasn’t part of the group that caused all the commotion,” she said.

She was an advocate for the school’s two unions, since disenfranchised as negotiating agents for teachers and support staff. The Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers has endorsed her for the position, she said.

Linda Remele, 65, who retired as deputy superintendent of PCSSD is an advocate for retired teachers, serving on the Arkansas Retired Teachers Association Board of Directors. She’s also co-president of the North Pulaski Retired Teachers Association.

Remele, who has a Ph.D. in educational leadership from UALR, has lived in central Arkansas and has been an educator for more than 40 years. Two grandchildren attend Sherwood schools. She has been a teacher, a counselor, a principal and district administrator for PCSSD and worked as a scholastic auditor for the state Department of Education.

I have the experience, knowledge, expertise and desire to improve the school district, she said.

Lawrence, 30 years a Sherwood resident, was a PCSSD teacher for 27 and a half years, 22 of them at Sylvan Hills Middle School.

All three of her children are graduates of Sylvan Hills High School or Mills High School and currently she has three grandchildren in the Sherwood schools—elementary through high school.

All three grandchildren attended elementary through high school in Sherwood.

She has been a member of PACT, the Arkansas Education Association and the National Education Association for her entire professional life.

“I’m an advocate for students and teachers,” she said, and “PACT supports me.”

Remele retired in 2004, but returned to help the district.

“I’m excited for the future of the district, but there’s a big task ahead for the district to keep its fiscal distress in the past,” she said.

“We have to watch the budget carefully in the coming years,” she said. The district will have less revenue because it lost about 4,000 students to Jacksonville and also because millions of dollars of desegregation funding from the state is done, except for the final payment which must be used exclusively for facilities.

“I believe in PCSSD and I want to see us get out of court,” for desegregation purposes. “Put children first, be fiscally responsible and do not go back into distress. Remele noted that Dollarway School District got out of fiscal distress, and then got taken over again for fiscal distress.

Remele said money needs to be spent on the children and on pay increases if possible. But she noted that salaries and benefits account for about 75 percent to 80 percent of a school district budget.

“You can’t cut the gas bill, or ignore leaks in the buildings, or upkeep, but non-teaching staff can be cut when necessary,” she said. She said the employees are not paid as well as they should be. They were well overdue for raises. “We have to make sure there’s no fluff in the central office,” Remele said.

Lawrence also said a top priority is making sure the district doesn’t get taken over by the state again. “The district needs to serve students the best it can, provide top technology and everything they need to get an education in the 21st Century.”

Teachers, students, parents and support staff should have a voice, she said. “People working together—that makes a school district great.”

She said she’d like to see more collaboration across the board, and she wants to look at top-level management and see if any changes are needed.

Teachers and support staff deserve raises, Lawrence said. “Bus drivers are making $16,000 a year and can’t support a family on that.”

With desegregation money ending, a student body of only about 12,000 students, “We’re going to have to scrimp and save like I have done all my life. There have to be other options we can look at to pay bills. Insurance premiums are killing people.”

We’re going to have to look at money.

Remele is co-chairman of the Sherwood Education Foundation, appointed by Virginia Hillman Young. The foundation was started in 2013, but the first efforts to get its own school district date back about a decade.

The foundation raised funds for a facilities study, and got representatives in the General Assembly to change the law to allow detachments that would create districts as small as 2,500.

Sherwood can’t detach until PCSSD and Jacksonville-North Pulaski are declared unitary.

Unitary efforts have been on a back burner while JNPSD got off the ground, according to Remele, but she thinks the judge wants to move things along now.

Currently those two districts are working toward unitary status in facilities and staffing. That would leave achievement of unitary status in academics and student discipline.