by Max Brantley
Pulaski County School Board President Tim Clark has distributed a letter to district parents defending the effort he led to end recognition of the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers and to criticize the union for going to court against the school district.
Old story: Management is right, labor wrong. We care about kids; they don't.
UPDATE: As luck would have it, I received a batch of letters from a district resident objecting to the Board's action. He also raises questions about acting superintendent Rob McGill's use of his National Guard ties to shore up the district's effort to bust union resistance. He complains, too, that teachers who walked out for a day were barred from attending evening Christmas programs by their students. The writer wonders if McGill would have deployed armed troops to prevent their admittance had they tried to attend.
I'm putting a couple of the letters on the jump.
LETTER FROM TOM HUNT OF JACKSONVILLE
I stood with the superintendent and the board when the union went on strike back in 96, I think that was the year. I served on campus equity and improvement committees at North Pulaski High School, I volunteer coached one of the first soccer teams in the district, I spent countless hours lobbying the State Legislature to pass the Registered Volunteer Act so schools across the state could use volunteers in a more impactful way, and a decade ago I was appalled by the conduct of PACT representatives in board meetings; however, I have never been more ashamed and frustrated than I have been since the board meeting of Tuesday, December 8.
The conduct of the board and the administration has been heavy handed, coercive, and bullying. Teachers were told that they could not attend their student's events on Thursday evening if they honored the one day walk-out.
One board member’s letter to a parent regarding actions of the teachers was misleading and designed to punish. It implied that teachers are blocking progress and should do more. It implied that financial problems could be alleviated if teachers would do playground, bus, and hall duty. It ignored that those few minutes of reprieve help them collect their thoughts and be better teachers when the students return to class. It also ignored that teachers spend some of that time returning phone calls to parents, delivering paperwork to the office, and going to the bathroom. Which of us could handle the pressure of corraling twenty-five-plus students, loving and doing our best to teach young minds, grading mounds of homework, dealing with administrative issues, preparing lesson plans that must be color coded to comply with administrative demands, preparing students to handle the pressure of standardized testing---all without a break. Most men spend one day babysitting their own kids and think that they deserve a medal and do all they can to avoid a repeat performance. Teachers have a very difficult job that I would not do for twice the pay.
Today a survey of teachers would reveal frustration that is caused by a plethora of paperwork and the stress of never feeling appreciated regardless of the job they do. The district calls needless meetings, demands attendance at meaningless seminars, and mid-level supervisors seem to justify their positions by constantly rolling out new programs. Teachers spend many hours at home grading papers--a price they gladly pay in order to enjoy the schedule that so many in the public do not understand or appreciate; i.e., summers and holidays. In the meantime, some schools are dirty, books are in short supply, and the frustration level grows because a few challenging students are allowed to dominate the day with disrespect and distraction.
The heart of our teachers, yes even the union teachers, is in the right place. It is with the students that they love. I also believe that the board members hearts are in the right place or you wouldn't have volunteered for the thankless job of being on the school board. I do not envy your position. I plead with you, implore you to be the sane voices our district needs. In your next meeting say, "Let's reset the clock." "Let's re-instate the union and begin to ask the questions--How did we come to this? How can we heal wounds? How can we help teachers reduce the frustration level? How can we facilitate a collaborative environment that results in a consensus for student success?"
I am asking each of you to do the hard thing. That is to swallow pride and put the students ahead of the frustration of the last few days. It doesn’t matter who started this. What matters is “What is best for the district?” The previously mentioned letter stated that there would be difficult decisions ahead. The board member was right. The next few days will bring some difficult decisions; however, they need not be complicated by the continued rejection of the union and the hundreds of teachers that voluntarily join, pay their dues, and support it. Again, for the sake of the district and the students, I urge you to begin the process of healing. Re-instate the union and facilitate discussion that will bring about progress. We all need your leadership.
ANOTHER LETTER FROM TOM HUNT
Calling Arkansas Army National Guard members to fill in classrooms when over 600 PCSSD teachers observed a one-day walk out raises serious questions of appropriateness. That’s right, Rob McGill, acting superintendent and retired Lt. Colonel in the Arkansas Army National Guard, called on his buddies to fill in when the teachers union, PACT, called a one-day walkout to protest the school board’s decision to decertify the union. Superficially, it seems like an innovative idea but think about it. Was this sanctioned by the Arkansas Army National Guard or did acting superintendent McGill just call Guard members from a list that he kept from his days as Lt. Colonel? This brings up another question, is it appropriate for a retired Lt. Colonel to maintain a government data base or does this raise privacy issues? If not, perhaps the Arkansas Army National Guard would be happy to supply the names, addresses and phone numbers of all their members so PACT could send each a letter explaining their position regarding the contractual issues and the school board’s action. These Guard members might also like to know that the administration kept teachers who observed the walkout from attending their students' activities on the same evening. That’s right. Elementary school teachers were not allowed to watch their students perform in Christmas programs. What if the union teachers had not complied and attended their students' Christmas programs? Would retired Lt. Colonel Rob McGill have asked the Arkansas Army National Guard to take up rifles to protect the students from those mean teachers who wanted to support their students performing in Christmas programs? Board President Clark and retired Lt. Colonel and acting superintendent McGill don’t look like Orval Faubus yet they seem to think that it is appropriate to informally call up the Arkansas Army National Guard to thwart the effects of a legitimate labor action by a legal union. These men, one a real president of the board and one an acting superintendent, have proven one thing. They can’t be trusted with the district’s business. They have wasted almost $200,000 by overpaying full time substitutes: they have misused their position with the Guard to thwart a legal labor action: they have denied access to Christmas programs by teachers who spent an earlier part of the day honoring a one-day walk out: they disappointed children that wanted their teachers to see their Christmas program. Need I go further? It takes a lot more than “calling out” the Guard to direct a school district. It takes mental and emotional adults that understand the concept of collaborative decision making and facilitating a positive educational atmosphere in every level of the district. These men are “classical management” to the core and no district can blossom and prosper in an environment of “my way or the highway.” It isn’t effective in business and it certainly isn’t effective in an educational environment.
Conflict Management 101 says that one looses control of a situation when one looses control of themselves. The gang of four lost control of themselves in the infamous PACT de-certification board meeting and now they have lost control of the situation. They should regain control by embracing PACT as a partner and we’ll try not to mentally morph Orval Faubus over their picture.