Aug 14, 2007

Privatization kills union and 40 jobs

Howell Public Schools Board of Education voted unanimously Monday to break the custodians union, fire 40 custodians and privatize custodial services by contracting with a Grand Rapids-based company.

The board said their shortsighted and anti-union move was a hard decision, but it apparently wasn’t that hard. The move was unpopular, and according to the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, “another audience member — Barry Goode, leader of the Brighton Education Association teachers’ union — called the board’s actions “shameful,” saying the district’s highest-paid employees were “advocating cannibalism” of the lowest-paid employees.”

So basically, the company that got the contract, Grand Rapids Building Services Inc., can hire all, some or none of the former dedicated custodians at minimum wage or near minimum wage with no benefits. This is just one more assault on a living wage, unions and the middle class.

Privatization of services and the race to the bottom for wages will soon have a devastating effect on the economy and country. Granted, this case of privatizing is not part of any Republican conspiracy, but overall it fits right into their mission to break unions. Republicans in both the House and Senate have bills pending to make Michigan a right to work for less state, and if that fails, a rightwing extremist who specializes in fraudulent and deceptive petition drives is marshaling money and resources to launch a petition drive to place it on the ballot.

If the decision was so tough why didn’t the board cut from the top instead of the bottom? Howell administrators are some of the highest paid public employees in Livingston County, and the board is also considering giving them a raise. HPS has four assistant superintendent, 12 supervisors or directors and countless principals. Perhaps it would be easier to cut one of those positions or even cut their pay to save jobs.

For an excellent example of how to properly erase a budget deficit Howell does not need to look very far, just a few miles down the road to Fowlerville Community Schools.

Back in 2000 the district found itself facing budget a deficit after it opened a new school building, like Howell, coupled with the overestimation of expected new students. They lured popular long-time high school principal Ed Alverson out of retirement to fill the vacant superintendent position to right the ship, and shortly after he signed on it was discovered the district had mistakenly received two payments of $380,000 and $372,000 a few years ago from the state resulting from some tax abatements that it had to pay back.

Faced with a budget shortfall of more than $700,000 Alverson did everything he could to avoid layoffs. In the end, he only had to layoff the assistant superintendent for curriculum and the finance director. With the education and training they had they were unemployed for perhaps a week. Alverson saw them through that crisis even though the cut in central office personnel meant more of that load fell to him and the lone assistant superintendent, but he still managed to keep the ship afloat and eventually restored those positions.

It would also seem that because the district has already had its $67.1 million budget in place since June it would not need to make more cuts, but public schools are in the same boat Michigan’s public colleges and universities are in: they have to pass their budget without knowing how much state aid they will or will not receive. Since the Senate Republicans have not passed one single budget bill and Senate Majority “leader’ Mike Bishop is holding state government hostage until his demands are met, this is what we can expect.


Anonymous said...

My hometown, Marshall, just did the same thing this week. 23 custodial employees were cut with a 3 year savings estimated at $1 million. The same Grand Rapids company won the contract to replace them.

I don't know what should happen, but if people are truly upset at this trend, they should plan on voting next fall for legislators who have the balls and the brains to increase funding for our K-12 public schools.

I am also wondering why some union does not go out and attempt to unionize the employees of that Grand Rapids company.

Communications guru said...

It’s happening all over, but there are some school boards doing the right thing and rejecting this shortsighted union-busting attempt. Just check out what they did at Hanover-Horton Schools.