During the meeting’s public comments, several people pleaded emotionally with board members to keep the custodians, as well as questioning the quality of work performed by private contractors.
Debra Scholz, the president of the Spring Lake Educational Support Personnel Association — which represents the school district’s custodians — told board members that she received no response to two proposals she submitted, both offering concessions like wage rollbacks and higher insurance premiums for custodians.
SLPS Superintendent Dennis Furton said after the meeting that he and other administrators had not responded to either of the proposals — the first of which the district received June 6 after Furton had set a June 3 deadline for the custodians’ proposal.
“At that point, we had to go with what we had,” he said, referring to the proposal and bids from three private contractors.
Scholz and other custodians said they saw the lack of response as an unwillingness to negotiate.
But Furton said that the custodians’ original proposal had to stand on its own merits, as well did bids submitted by private companies.
“I’m really disappointed in the school district,” Scholz said after the meeting.
“Community” was a common theme among the audience members who spoke during public comments. Most questioned whether employees of a professional cleaning service would take the same pride in their work or treat SLPS students as well as the current custodians do. Others, including maintenance worker and union steward Jim Peterson, questioned the quality of work performed by Reliant.
“I have a daughter-in-law who works in day care for Mona Shores (Public Schools, which uses Reliant’s cleaning services),” Peterson said. “She told me that maintenance workers will clean up vomit in a classroom when they get to it — that could be an hour or the next day.”
One subject of contention with maintenance workers is the 8-9 percent fund balance that SLPS officials say they will maintain in the district’s general fund expenditures, under the new budget. Many speakers Wednesday asked the school board why they didn’t use this money instead to keep custodians working.
Before voting on privatization, board members heard a budget presentation from Scott Powers, the district’s chief financial officer. He told them that a fund balance of $1.93 million will cover about five weeks of school operations in the event of a state government shutdown.
“It doesn’t go very far,” Powers said.
The board also approved a budget that spends more than $24 million districtwide. Powers gave a presentation showing the challenges he and other administrators faced in balancing the school’s budget.
Other cuts or savings in the district budget include the layoffs of teachers and paraprofessionals, the elimination of mid-day busing, and the sharing of three supervising positions. Administrative staff also accepted an insurance plan requiring them to pay more, Furton said.
Audience members were not the only ones to show emotion at Wednesday’s school board meeting. Board President Dina Horne’s voice broke as she read a statement she prepared ahead of the meeting.
“I feel the weight of this decision,” she said. “I know these words sound hollow, but we appreciate everything these custodial workers have done for us over the years.”
Prior to the vote, Board Secretary Dennis Devlin stressed that the decision to privatize was a hard one, but ultimately necessary.
“You know what happens when we run out of our fund balance?” he said. “We get one of those financial manager bozos who get rid of our contracts, get rid of our superintendent, fire our teachers and run our school.
“No one here wants to vote to get rid of our current employees,” Devlin added.