Tuesday, March 31, 2015

EDITORIAL >> District says it will be fair

The Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District is not quite off the ground yet — it’s still a two-person operation with a couple of part-timers and an interim school board — but teachers are concerned about future pay and even if they’ll have a job once the district completes its separation from the Pulaski County Special School District.

Interim Superintendent Bobby Lester and Phyllis Stewart, his chief of staff, want to calm fears about salaries and staffing, although nothing is final until a personnel policy committee and ultimately the state, which still controls the county district, approve them.

But Lester and Stewart, both veterans of the Pulaski County Special School District, insist that starting teachers in Jacksonville can count on better pay than those in the PCSSD. They admit that veteran teachers, once they join the Jacksonville district, will probably make less since the new district cannot afford to pay the high salaries achieved through seniority, which are among the most generous in the state.

Lester and Stewart say those high salaries and fringe benefits helped make PCSSD insolvent, which resulted in the state taking the district over. That takeover continues as Jacksonville looks to running its own district in 2016-17.

More than 310 PCSSD teachers could then apply to work for the new district. Some may not get hired as Jacksonville and North Pulaski High Schools will merge by then and fewer teachers will be needed. They might apply elsewhere or retire. A 10 percent reduction in personnel could save the district millions of dollars a year.

That figure could be determined by the number of students who will attend the new district. Some students may leave, while new ones might sign up if they like what the new district is doing. Lester and Stewart say new principals will be hired, as will be bus drivers and others, but some jobs will be eliminated, including a band director and executive positions as the district reduces the number of schools.

A new superintendent will start July 1, when Lester will step down, having helped bring the new district into existence. Much more work remains to be done as they negotiate with PCSSD on how to divide the district’s assets.

The district will soon move into permanent quarters to help launch a new era for Jacksonville far from Dixon Road headquarters in Little Rock. They’re off to a good start.