Aug 12, 2007
The all-out attack on unions launched by the Republicans with the push for right to work for less laws has a new ally called privatization.
This enemy of decent wages and quality workers allows public schools and government to fire quality workers who earn a living wage in order to hire a private company to hire other workers for minimum wage. Granted, this is not just a push from Republicans, but it stinks no less.
The latest assault has come here in Howell Public Schools where the school board is considering a resolution at its regular board meeting Monday to fire its union custodians in order to hire a private company to supply the services. According to the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, “the union has offered to accept a wage freeze and have members contribute $2,400 yearly to health insurance benefits.” School districts all over the state are struggling to stay afloat with shrinking revenue from the state, but this is a shortsighted move. The board just approved its $67.1 million budget in June with $517,000 from its ending fund balance – money set aside for emergencies - and it expects to save $400,000 or more by privatizing custodial services.
This comes on the heels of news the school board wants to give raises to its top five administrators. Great, let’s give raises to the people who helped get us in this mess, but cut the wages of the people who are making do with less. According to the Press & Argus, those administrators being consider for raises include Superintendent Chuck Breiner, Deputy Superintendent Lynn Parrish, Assistant Superintendents Jeanne Farina and Rick Terres, as well as Paul Pominville, director of technology, and Mike Peterson, director of operations.
Howell is the largest public school in Livingston County, which is also the fastest growing county in the state, and Breiner is the highest paid public school employee in the county, as well as the third highest paid public employee in the county, raking in more than $140,000 a year. He only comes in behind U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers and the county administrator.
Public school administrators are always at the top of the pay scale, and both Terres and Parrish each earn more than $120,000 a year. Howell has the highest paid principal in the county at $111,000. I don’t have a problem with people earning the most money they can, but not on the backs of those below them and if it hurts the quality of the services provided like this will.
Board President Phil Westmoreland is the second board member to make the shortsighted proposal to suggest the swimming pool at the high school be shut down in order to save $100,000. In the interest of full disclosure, one of my part-time jobs is teaching swim lessons to kids at the pool.
But as such, I see the segment of the Howell community it serves, and it provides services from the cradle to the grave, from teaching infants and their parents how to be safe in the water to exercise classes for seniors and those with arthritis. When the millage was passed to add the pool onto the high school in the early ‘90s it was sold to the voters that if they voted to approve it the pool would be a community pool available for use by everyone.
I don’t mind paying school taxes even though I no longer have kids in public school anymore because it’s my patriotic duty to do so, and it’s our responsibility to provide a quality education for all children. However, as such the school and the swimming pool are community assets. It seems the board wants to go back on a promise, and I cannot see the sense of a useful asset like a swimming pool sitting idle when you are asking those who used the pool and don’t have kids in the schools to continue to pay school taxes.
I supported this board and administration when it stood up to anti-gay hate group known as the LOVE” PAC (Livingston Organization for Values in Education) that tried to ban books by Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning authors from Howell High School classrooms, but their financial decisions have left something to be desired. The district's second high school is set to open this fall. But after getting voters to pass a $90 million-plus bond issue in 2003 to build the high school it realized it did not have the money to operate two high schools.
Back to the swimming pool issue, Parker has a new, eight-lane, competitive swimming pool that will, and can, only be used by students and swim teams. They ignore the success the newest high school in Livingston County, located just a few miles east down M-59, is enjoying.
Some three years ago when Hartland opened its new high school it built a swimming pool and fitness center that the community can use, and they can buy memberships to, as well as by the day. The swimming pool is the standard 25-yard, six-lane pool that the swim teams and physical education classes use, but right next to it is an indoor water park that is always crowded and draws people from all over mid-and southeast-Michigan. If it does not actually make a profit, it breaks even. Why that was success was not considered when the new pool was built is anyone’s guess.
The school board has to do a better job that it’s doing with the public funds entrusted to it.