Monday, March 30, 2015

EDITORIAL >> Districts' split turns messy

The separation between the Pulaski County Special School District and the new Jacksonville district is much like a divorce, albeit a somewhat friendly one.

In a divorce, rumors and accusations run rampant, and that’s what is happening here.
Both districts owe it to students, parents, teachers and staff to be very transparent and get the word out so the “friendly” remains in this divorce.

The latest rumor has many Jacksonville-based teachers and administrators scrambling to find work, and many of those leaving are bright, wonderful, caring staff members the new district would be privileged to have, but the district may not even have the opportunity to keep them.

The fear is that Jacksonville-based teachers will not go into the county district job pool—that is, if the new district doesn’t hire the teachers already here, they will have to go to the unemployment line.

This rumor got some traction when outgoing state Education Commissioner Tony Wood, acting as the school board, approved the idea, which does not guarantee jobs for all Jacksonville teachers. The plan will now go to the PCSSD personnel policy committee for final approval. If approved, it will send many Jacksonville-based staff scrambling to find new jobs, and the students will suffer.

This, coupled with word that the new district wants young and innovative teachers, could lead to lawsuits. Veteran teachers worry the new district will be pay them less. As these rumors fly, many teachers could start looking elsewhere. The Jacksonville district must assure qualified teachers that they will be fairly compensated and pay cuts shouldn’t be expected.

And then there’s added confusion as the state Board of Education considers having only two districts in Pulaski County instead of a new Jacksonville district. After all the hard work, it’s easy to see how tensions can rise, accusations can fly and what starts as a friendly separation turns into a big mess.

The way to quash these rumors is to be as transparent as possible. Send home fliers detailing plans, let the local media know so facts can be published in print rather than passed from ear to ear much like a childhood game of telephone.

District officials will not be able to quash all rumors, but they need to try harder to make things clear to all the stakeholders.

Both districts need to use social media even if there is nothing new to say.

The new district is supposed to be the shining star that brings decades of glory to the city, but that star will be snuffed out quickly if this separation gets nasty and the foundation of the new district is not built solidly.

What the Jacksonville district needs to do is offer all Jacksonville-based teachers first right to work for the new district. Why? Continuity and experience. It’s good for the students to have teachers who know them during this divorce.

Interim Superintendent Bobby Lester can allay these fears with frank talk and a promise that the new district will be among the best in the state.

Our children’s future is at stake. We’ve all seen friendly divorces turn nasty; let this not be one of those splits where only the lawyers benefit.