School board should listen to superintendent

We won’t say that Superintendent Linda Watson is always the smartest person in the room, but on Sept. 17, she was definitely the smartest person at the Pine Bluff School Board meeting.

At that meeting, the board voted to pay summer school teachers the same amount that the summer school teachers in 2012 received.

Board member Phyllis Wilkins got the ball headed in the wrong direction by making the motion to pay the teachers — despite the fact that the measure was not on the meeting agenda.

Apparently not someone who quibbles, Watson quickly attempted to shoot down Wilkins’ misguided motion.

“This motion is wrong,” the superintendent said. “This motion is illegal as it stands. The legal way to make this motion is to suspend the rules to add an item to the agenda.”

There are a lot of new faces on the board, and one might think that they would have studied up on proper meeting protocol or at least listened to their more wizened district supervisor when she said whoa. But away they went, lickety-split, cart before the horse.

Board secretary Leon Jones asked for additional information on the teacher pay scale. That sent Pam Winkler, director of business and finance, scurrying to her office to hunt up the paperwork. Which is one reason that items are put on an agenda — so everyone is ready to discuss the subject and not be forced to run hither-thither looking for documents.

In the end, the board voted to increase the pay of this year’s summer school teachers to the same level as the 2012 teachers. And then board president Piccola Washington asked the superintendent how they can determine if the payment increase was legally approved.

Basically, Watson said you guys just passed a motion so we’re going to carry it out.

We’re not sure what was so hard to understand about the superintendent’s first words on the subject, i.e., “This motion is wrong.”

Act II of this played out this week when, well, we’ll just repeat the newspaper headline: PB board rescinds teacher pay vote over procedural concerns.

During a special called meeting, board members took back that previous piece of work.

Board secretary Jones made the motion to rescind.

“When we discussed this last week, I was not as knowledgeable about things as I am now,” Jones said. “I move that we rescind the previous vote because it was presented in the wrong way.”

Board president Washington said she had “communicated with our attorney who has advised me that this vote was not done correctly.”

You had your superintendent, your well-respected superintendent, a few feet away from you saying bluntly, “This motion is illegal as it stands,” and you went ahead and passed the motion and then had to talk to your attorney? To quote a line from a Saturday Night Live skit: REALLY? Oh, and your lawyer, Luther Sutter, is pretty new at this school district attorney gig, so he’s learning as he goes, if that makes any difference.

Not that the issue of teacher pay doesn’t need to be discussed, but obviously, there is a right way and a very wrong way to accomplish that. In the future, note to yourself: Listen to superintendent. She’s pretty sharp.