By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer
Against the wishes of Superintendent Charles Hopson, the Pulaski County Special School Board decided Tuesday evening to have a budget and contract workshop Dec. 13, then consider the long-overdue contracts and raises for teachers and support staff at the regular meeting the next night.
Hopson, who called Tuesday night’s special meeting to clarify his role and that of the board, had hoped to hold consideration of the contracts until the January meeting, devoting the December meeting to the sorry state of district facilities and a framework for new construction, renovation and repairs
Hopson opened saying he wanted to dispel rumors. “This is not a meeting to announce my resignation. We’re moving forward. We have tremendous challenges, including facilities and the (likely) phaseout of desegregation funding.”
But the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers and the Pulaski Association of Support Staff and their supporters on the board said the employees had waited long enough.
Board member Gwen Williams said it was time to resolve the issue of teacher contracts. “Some of the things being perceived in public—(Hopson needs to) sit down with (PACT president) Marty Nix and (PASS pPresident) Emry Chesterfield and have an honest conversation with them. There’s still a lack of trust out there.
“I would like to see contracts on the December board meeting,” she added. Hopson said he wasn’t sure the district had enough money for the raises negotiators for the unions and the district were talking about—2 percent for next year and 3 percent the following year.
Nix challenged Hopson’s contention, saying there was $1 million for additional buses to accommodate Hopson’s new bell schedule and a quarter of a million dollars for consultants to help the district deal with issues of race and also with long-range strategic planning.
“All complain that the central office is swelling since we got out of fiscal distress,” board president Bill Vasquez said.
He recommended going back to the staffing plan adopted but not implemented at that time because more funds became available. The district then had 19,000 students but now has 16,500, he said, requiring fewer administrators and perhaps fewer schools.
“We had $20 million worth of identifiable cuts,” Vasquez said. “All we need is about three or four million. Pick your poison.”
Vasquez set the Dec. 13 workshop and asked that the district’s negotiator, Deputy Superintendent Paul Brewer, facilities director Col. Derrick Scott and Chief Financial Officer Anita Farver be prepared to answer financial questions for the board.
Board members Sandra Sawyer and Mildred Tatum, both of whom will be out of town for the workshop, had suggested holding the issue for January.
Farver told board member Gloria Lawrence that there already was about a 1.5 percent pay increase built into next year’s budget. She said it would cost the district about $600,000 per percent to pay for any raises.
Several board members said they were unhappy that they found out about the trip eight district representatives were making to China this week came from a leak and inquiries from reporters.
The Confucius Institute’s UCA branch arranged the trip for several Arkansas school districts interested in teaching Mandarin Chinese. The district’s share of the cost is about $3,400, but the board members said they thought they should have been informed about the program.
Hopson said it comes under his responsibilities as the district’s educational leader.
Vasquez said the board would decide at the December meeting whether or not to approve the contracts, and if cuts had to be made to afford the raises, where those cuts would be made.