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School Support Staff Protests Privatization Plan

Union leader Val Porter said privatization could cost 100 employees their jobs.

School Support Staff Protests Privatization Plan

It was a sea of red in the media center at Liberty School at Tuesday night's Board of Education meeting as support staff workers possible plans to privatize half of the jobs done by the unionized workforce.

Workers and many of their supporters wore red shirts to protest privatization plans. The action came at a meeting where Interim Finance Director Janice Warner explained that the district is close capsizing in a sea of red.

Val Porter, President of the Saline Educational Support Personnel Association representing 210 workers, said the district has put out requests for proposals for grounds and maintenance, transportation, secretarial and afternoon custodial work.  Bids will start coming in this week, Porter said.

Superintendent Scot Graden declined to comment, saying it was a collective bargaining matter. The district’s contract with support staff, teachers and administrators expire at the end of June.

Porter said the union has been told to take concessions or face privatization. But some support staff officials say there’s not much left to give.

“Every time we come to the table, you guys are like this,” said transportation employee Rita Engle, holding her hand out. “We’ve given and given and given. There’s nothing really left to give.  Before long we’ll have to pay to come to work. We’re not getting cost of living. Gas is going up. Groceries are going up”

Porter said that the union has received a one percent raise in the last four years while giving up health care benefits, holidays, sick days and more.

“All that has gone down the tubes for us in the last four years. And yet we’re bargaining again and they are asking us to give,” Porter said.

A wide range of workers spoke before school board.

Nancy Brewer, who works in the custodial department, said the work goes beyond cleaning.

“We keep our schools nice for the community and the kids who go there,” Brewer said. “We’re not just people you can throw away. If you privatize, you might save a dime, but you’re going to lose a bunch of people that care for these schools and for the kids that go here.”

Support staff received the support of the Saline Education Association, the union representing Saline teachers, as well as other speakers at Tuesday’s meeting.

“Support staff are our neighbors. How would privatizing a service, selling it to the lowest bidder and following a political handbook agenda increase care?” asked Juan Lauchu, President of the SEA. “Teachers work together every day with support staff to bring forth the quality of education expected from the community.”

Lauchu support staff are a big reason why Saline’s schools are viewed so favorably.

“There’s no political agenda. There’s no ideology. It’s just helping kids,” he said.

Jim Quinno, director of fields for Saline Area Soccer Association, said he worried what privatizing the grounds crew might do to his organization, which plays on fields owned by the district. Quinno said SASA works with the district’s grounds crew on maintenance, mowing and fertilization. “We’re here to speak in support of the grounds crew and to say that we’re concerned how this might affect our relationship with the school system.”

Warner is close to finalizing the 2011-12 budget. Expenditures are $260,000 less than projected in February, but revenue is down by $390,000.

The end result, according to Warner’s latest projection, is that the district anticipates total revenue of $49.6 million and expenditures of $51.3 million, for a structural deficit of $1.7 million.

Changes in school employee retirement benefits may save the district approximately $800,000. The district also hopes to raise one-time revenue with the sale of land at Woodland Drive and Maple Road. But even so, with no change in state funding and a projected enrollment drop of 71 students, the district projects a structural deficit of $1,983,000 in 2012-13.

That would eat up the remaining fund balance and throw the district into a negative cash flow situation, which could range from $375,000 to $1.2 million depending on the retirement rate.

Board Vice President Chuck Lesch, who ran the meeting in the absence of President Lisa Slawson, thanked the people who spoke.

“That’s how we learn what’s going on, from listening to you,” Lesch said.

The board has set a special education meeting fro 6:30 p.m. Monday at Liberty School. 

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