2 educators queried on workforce plans
Cuts feared at schools for blind, deaf
By Brian Fanney
May 14, 2015
The superintendents of the Arkansas schools for the deaf and blind clashed with their personnel manager over a reorganization plan during a hearing before legislators Wednesday.
The superintendents want to move some positions but aren’t guaranteeing continued employment to those who currently hold those jobs; the manager accused the administrators of having ulterior motives.
Jim Hill, superintendent for the Arkansas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and Mike Phillips, superintendent of the Arkansas School for the Deaf, appeared before a subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council to justify a “reduction in force” after the board of trustees for both schools voted to end certain shared services.
“In all honesty, the administrative structure that was set up for the operation of the joint services was not conducive to efficient and equitable operation for both schools,” Hill told the Uniform Personnel Classification and Compensation Plan Subcommittee. “There were inherent problems that arose because I had no supervisory capacity over key positions within that structure.”
A “reduction in force” process is usually used to thin employee ranks, but Hill said the schools are attempting to reclassify employees to one school or the other after ending the shared services unit, which employs administrative, maintenance, public safety and transportation-related employees.
In total, 26 positions would be affected. The employees would be eligible for rehiring with their benefits intact after reapplying for jobs, according to the Office of Personnel Management.
“I cannot speak to the quality of their work or whether or not their job performance has been what it should be,” Hill said. “Certainly, I can say in all fairness that if their job performance is appropriate and if they met the qualifications, they would have a good chance of getting the position.”
Some legislators questioned the use of that process to reclassify employees if the goal is to move them from shared services to school-specific services.
“Many of us have heard comments from people who work in the blind or deaf school saying why in the world are we doing a [reduction in force] rather than a lateral transfer or various other things,” said Sen. Uvalde Lindsey, D-Fayetteville and chairman of the subcommittee.
Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, asked Zoreda Richardson, personnel manager for the schools, to testify.
Sharing a microphone and desk with Hill, Richardson said employees should be able to transfer from the shared services of one school to the other without reapplying for their jobs.
“If you don’t like those employees, [you’ve] got six months to evaluate them. If they’re not performing at your level, then you can let them go on probationary purposes,” she said. “Why disrupt people’s work? They have a hidden agenda. They’re trying to make you think that everyone has an equal chance of getting their jobs back, but they don’t.”
Elliott said she would speak to the Office of Personnel Management to see whether there was an alternative way that positions could be swapped.
“As a result of information I’ve got from Mr. Hill and from employees, I had parallel interpretations of what was going on,” she said after the meeting. “I will call a meeting with Mr. Hill, the board president and the employees affected to see if there’s a way we can reconcile what has happened. It’s not something that is a mandate, it’s something I would do in a collaborative fashion.”