New PCSSD school board already facing tough decision of cutting nearly $20 million

The first PCSSD school board elected in nearly six years met officially for the first time on Tuesday, already tasked with making nearly $20 million in cuts to next year's budget. (Photo: KATV)

The newly elected Pulaski County Special School District school board is already facing some tough decisions. During their initial meeting on Tuesday night, members were briefed on the near $20 million budget shortfall the district faces for the upcoming school year.

“There’s going to be some changes that need to be made that will be painful,” said Dr. Jerry Guess, PCSSD superintendent.

Guess said the district has already identified most of the cuts the district needs to make in order to create a balanced budget for the 2017-2018 school year.

The majority of cuts are tied to prior desegregation commitments and commitments to what is now the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District. District officials identified roughly $2.3 million dollars expected to be saved next year by streamlining school bus routes and deferring the purchase of new school busses.

But nearly $3.5 million in proposed cuts target certified staffing – specifically doing away with instructional facilitators, reducing the number of school improvement specialists and staff in the district’s secondary schools.

“This is the first time I’ve heard anything regarding the certified personnel,” said Pam Fitzgiven, chairperson of the district’s Certified Personnel Policy board.

Fitzgiven said certified personnel cuts were not discussed at prior CPP board meetings and hopes if district administrators do plan to cut teachers that they be kept in the loop.

“With the loss of desegregation funding, the district is going to have to look at budget cuts,” lamented Fitzgiven. “But certainly the cuts to the certified staff should absolutely be the last thing the district should even think about.”

A little more than $3.3 million in proposed cuts is tied to the district’s Donaldson Scholars Program. Dr. Guess said the district doesn’t plan to scrap the program, but rather restructure the program to make it more cost efficient.

Tuesday was the first time the district’s newly elected school board got to lay their eyes on a line-item budget that specifically outlined proposed cuts. The board won’t have to make a final decision on certified personnel until May 1, when the district is required to automatically renew teacher contracts.

All seven school board members were elected back in November after the district regained local control following an Arkansas Board of Education voted in March to remove PCSSD from its fiscal distress status.

The board unanimously chose Dr. Linda Remele, former PCSSD teacher and Zone 3 board member, to serve as board president. Board member Shelby Thomas was elected vice president, Alicia Gillen was elected secretary and Brian Maune was selected as the board’s dispersing officer.

Tuesday, the board decided to create board term limits of five years – the maximum allowed by state law. But because all seven board members are newly elected, the board drew from a hat for how long their terms would be, with terms for some ending as early as 2018.

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