The latest cost-cutting move in the financially strapped Conway School District has sparked a protest from the Arkansas Education Association, which says the district has essentially asked 136 teachers and administrators to sign blank contracts for the 2008-09 school year and waive their right to appeal any changes to the school board.
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The district has already cut a number of classroom and administrative positions in an effort to shore up a dwindling bank balance and stay out of fiscal distress.
The 136 employees — all in the district that work longer than the standard 195-day contract for classroom teachers — were asked earlier this week to sign one of two documents: Either accepting a contract that “represents a substantial change in the responsibilities, assignments, and/or contracted days,” plus a decrease in salary, and waiving their rights under the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act, or acknowledging that their existing contracts would not be renewed for next year, that new contracts would be reduced by five days, and they could appeal the change to the school board.
It’s the open-ended language, not the five-day cut, that has AEA official Karen Carter protesting.
“Not only have they waived their five days, they’ve agreed to whatever with salary, involuntary transfers,” and other changes, Carter said. “In essence they signed a blank contract that they have never seen and I don’t think they realize that.”
School Superintendent Greg Murry said he has no plans to make substantial changes — anything beyond what he’d be allowed to do anyway under the employees’ current contract.
“I’m only using the language that our lawyer suggested we needed to in this particular situation,” he said. “I have absolutely no intention of reassigning these folks in a significant manner.” 132 employees have agreed to the new contract, and the other four haven’t signed either document yet, he said.
Murry is trying to cut $4 million from the district’s budget, which has whittled reserve funds down from $20 million two years ago to an estimated $2.5 million at the end of this school year. Cutting the length of extended contracts by five days would save almost half a million dollars.