by Max Brantley
Realistically speaking, they had little choice. Nonethless, the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers and the Pulaski Association of Support Staff have agreed to reopen negotiations on portions of the contracts governing the 2012-13 school year in the Pulaski County Special School District. "We look forward to meaningful negotiations that are beneficial to both parties," PACT President Marty Nix said in a letter to Arkansas Education Director Tom Kimbrell.
The Pulaski County School District is in state receivership. Jerry Guess, appointed to head the district under state control, told the state Board of Education earlier this week that the district was heading for a huge deficit with changes. He plans to reduce staff by 77 and leave currently unfilled positions open, but said he needed to produce $7 million more in cuts to balance the budget.
These could include a reduction in the length of contracts (and thus pay) along with cuts in other benefits.
PACT sent Kimbrell a list of 35 questions on financial and work issues, including a recitation of how much money has been spent on consultants since the state takeover; attorney fees; overtime pay, and more. All would be useful in determining, I'd guess, whether working stiff-level pay cuts are the only viable cost-saving options.
Guess has said he believes an agreement can be worked out, but is prepared to make changes "unilaterally." The state believes its takeover means it is no longer legally obligated to the contract, but, to date, has shown a willingness to continue to have the unions represent employees.