The Pine Bluff School District is facing legal liabilities of at least $100,000, the district legal counsel Luther Sutter told the school board Tuesday night.
Sutter said that multiple lawsuits have been filed against the district including some that are several years old.
“Even if we win every one, the district’s liabilities will exceed six figures with the ongoing lawsuits,” Sutter said during the regular monthly meeting.
“The lawsuits have multiplied in the six months that I have served in this capacity. Some were expected and some were not. They range from transportation to employment to Freedom of Information Act issues to failure of policy. Some of these lawsuits go back five years,” he said.
“A FOIA lawsuit currently in progress could have been avoided if the school district had counsel present,” Sutter said. “At present we are being bombarded with FOIA requests.”
Sutter said that his primary purpose in speaking at the meeting was to introduce himself as the district’s lawyer to five of the seven board members recently elected.
“Much has been left on your plate,” Sutter said. “Many of the decisions made by the previous board I believe were made with the district’s best interests at heart. You may disagree with me but that’s what I believe. Many of the problems we have are a failure of policy.”
One of the lawsuits against the district is from former superintendent Jerry O. Payne who filed a suit Oct. 15 in Jefferson County Circuit Court alleging breach of contract and violation of his procedural due process rights. Payne is seeking a jury trial. This case has since been moved to federal court and is expected to go to trial in 2013.
Classified employee pay scale
In other business, the board voted to table a recommendation from interim superintendent Linda Watson to approve an addendum to a recommendation approved by the board at the July meeting to grant an up to 50 cents per hour raise for classified employees in the school district.
“The increase was for hourly wage employees who had not been given an increase in their hourly wages,” Watson said. “Some employees who have been working for 10 years or more in the district are making $8.12 per hour while others who have been with the district for four years are making $9.75 an hour. This is an attempt to remedy these inequities in the classified employee pay scale.”
“If we give a blanket raise of up to 50 cents per hour to classified employees, then we will only be perpetuating the pay scale inequities,” Watson said. “I recommend that the board limit the up to 50 cent increase to classified employees whose salaries are lower than their peers in the same position or with the same job titles. The raise would not be given to employees whose salaries already exceed their peers who are currently serving in the same position or hold the same job title as their peers.”
The board approved a list of personnel recommendations from Watson, including the hiring of certified employee Angela Edwards as a family and consumer science teacher at Jack Robey Junior High effective Nov. 12; and the hiring of classified employees Carl Holmes as a custodian effective Nov. 14; R.D. Miles Jr. as a maintenance employee effective Nov. 14; and Christy Reed as a school nurse effective Nov. 14.
The board accepted the resignations of certified personnel Gwendolyn McGhee as an English teacher at Jack Robey effective Nov. 13 and retroactive to Oct. 8; and Wanda Jones as a social studies teacher at Pine Bluff High School effective Dec. 21.
The board accepted the resignations of classified personnel Anniece Earl as a food service assistant with Food Services effective Nov. 5; and Destinee Moore as a custodian effective Oct. 19.
The board accepted the retirement of certified personnel Vicki Starlard-White as a counselor at 34th Elementary effective Nov. 1.
The board accepted the termination of classified personnel Craig Lee as a custodian effective Nov. 5; and Takisha Mason as a paraprofessional at Forrest Park Elementary effective Oct. 16.
The board heard the financial report for the month ending Oct. 31 from Director of Business and Finance Pam Winkler.
Winkler reported that the district had a beginning balance of $13,391,509; monthly revenue of $5,882,135; monthly expenditures of $3,254,393; an amount available for operating of $13,896,152; and a total balance for all funds of $19,087,052.