Thursday, April 28, 2011

Clean Sweep On Layoffs; Board Upholds Layoffs With Only Franklin In Opposition

HELENA-WEST HELENA- Janitors got cleaned out.  Security got mugged.  Aides got canned.  Wood shop was sawed off.  Nurses were taken off job support.  Teachers got tossed.  In short, there was carnage at the Thursday meeting of the Helena-West Helena School Board, which had more recesses than an elementary school.

Employees, both classified and certified, came in with their attorneys to make their cases that were to fall on deaf ears with only Board Member Christopher Franklin dissenting from the Board's decision to uphold the layoffs as part of the district's reduction in force plan to deal with fiscal distress.

School Board Attorney Vandall Bland opened the meeting by threatening the overflow crowd with being thrown out if they made noisy outbursts.

The hearings began with a set of mass hearings based on job category for the classified employees.  Superintendent Willie Williams made recommendations to cut a certain number in all of the classified categories.  In each category, the attorneys for the riffed employees argued that the district was cutting so much that the services being delivered could not adequately be provided with the remaining staff levels being recommended by the school administration.  Whether it was the janitors, security, teacher assistants, or school nurses, all the recommendations related to the classified staff with only Franklin dissenting.

Mike Funk Looks On As Board Saws Off Wood Shop
Then, the hearings moved to the certified employees.  First on the list for hearings was Mike Funk, a 25-year veteran of the district that taught furniture construction and repair in the vocational department.  The district reduced the number of vocational courses from 14 to 5.  Three are required under the state standards.  Funk and his attorneys made a case for why his vocational courses should not have been cut.  First, they presented evidence that Funk's courses had higher enrollments than almost all of the other vocational courses.  They pointed out that not every kid can go to college and presented testimony from two successful former students that use what he taught them who never went to college.  Both have their own businesses.  Funk is also certified to coach.  The Board of Directors was not swayed, and, with only Franklin dissenting, the Board upheld Williams's recommendation to eliminate the program.

Fears vs Bland
Things really got exciting during the hearing for 39-year veteran June Fears.  Her letter said she was being let go from her position as "Title I Lab Coordinator."  Her contract says she serves as the district's "Technology Integration Specialist."  Fears's lawyer was interrupted by Bland less than 30 seconds into the hearing and then there was a tense exchange between her attorney and Williams with Williams telling the attorney, "You don't interrupt me when I am talking."  At one point during the hearing, Bland threatened to throw out the crowd when they responded to his comment, "Isn't that your niece your talking about?"  Fears contended that she had the most seniority in the Title I department and that her niece Amanda with 9 years experience should have been the one sent back to the classroom.  We will have more coverage on Bland's attempt to throw out the audience in a separate story.

State Representative Nancy Blount testified on behalf of Fears.  She told the Board that Fears's position was "essential" and said that since Fears's pay was 100% from federal money, the district wasn't saving any money for its general fund budget by placing her in the reduction in force."  Again, the Board was not swayed by the testimony and Fears was tossed with only Franklin dissenting.

Two other hearings were held.  Arnetta Trice's appeal was rejected.  Linda English was also let go.  Her hearing was closed at her request.  The Inside Scoop Online formally objected to the hearing being closed under provisions of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

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