Jul 29, 2014
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Emotions Run High As School Committee Outsources Custodians

Tensions between ESP staff, teachers and even between school committee members mounted during Monday night's meeting.

Emotions Run High As School Committee Outsources Custodians

Significant changes to the . In an emotion-filled meeting, the committee voted to outsource its custodial department (laying off 26 employees) and denied an arbitrator’s award for the support staff, instead making unilateral changes to group.

Sixteen speakers took to the microphone during citizens’ comments: most speakers were custodians and ESP (Educational Support Professionals) staff. Among the speakers, the message was unanimous: support ESP and don’t outsource.

“I have been hit, kicked, punched, shoved, bit, spat on, threatened with physical violence and verbally demeaned by some of the district’s most difficult students,” said Nancy Ciccone, a paraprofessional at .

According to Ciccone, her hourly wage will drop to $10 an hour under the proposed cuts from Superintendent Phil Auger. Ciccone also pleaded the committee to "not balance the budget on the backs of the lowest paid workers."

“It is very hard to live on what we make as paraprofessionals,” said Stephani Webbr, a special education paraprofessional at . “Now you want to cut our life insurance, sick and personal days and a zero-percent salary increase.”

Though citizens’ comments ended after an hour, it wasn’t the last the committee would hear from the audience. ESP employees and other citizens yelled out at committee members during its voting. The interruptions prompted committee members Richard Welch, Larry Ceresi and John Boscardin to exchange words with certain speakers during the committee’s turn to speak on the matter.

Committee members weren’t just interrupted by citizens, but by fellow colleagues at the committee table. Boscardin’s initial comments were cut short by Bill Mudge, who repeatedly asked Auger what the school department’s deficit was during Boscardin's statements. Mudge’s microphone was eventually muted by Committee Chair Kimberly Page.

Mudge would also be the first member to make a motion on the ESP votes, moving to accept the arbitrator’s contract award. The motion went against the recommendation of Auger who said that the disparity between the concessions in the award and what the department would need to balance this year’s budget was too large. The arbitrator’s award would have delivered $621,000 in savings. (In an interview with Auger on Monday prior to the meeting, Auger said the new contract would need to garner about $600,000 in savings for the district to balance its budget.)

However, according to Auger, the lion’s share of that savings (about $290,000) came from increasing ESP employees’ health insurance cost share from four percent to 15 percent. Auger and staff had already factored that increase into their budget calculations.

Mudge’s motion to pass the ESP’s award from the arbitrator was shot down 5-2 (with only Melvoid Benson casting the other supporting vote). After Mudge’s subsequent motion to adjourn the meeting was also shot down 5-2, he left the meeting before the committee voted on the remaining items – including the unilateral changes to the ESP’s contract and the termination of 26 custodians.

The committee voted to award a bid to GCA to privatize the district’s custodial department and will plan to award the contract at its meeting Tuesday night. Though the staff got the axe, GCA has made a verbal agreement to hire all of North Kingstown’s current custodians as long as they pass a BCI check. The custodians will be rehired at the company’s “enhanced wage.”

Though the committee agreed 4-2 (Benson and Dick Welch opposing) to grant the paraprofessionals a one-percent pay increase (up from the superintendent’s recommendation to freeze salaries), it also eliminated life insurance for ESP, cut three sick days and one personal day and established new buyback rates for employees who opted out of health care. (Those new rates are now $2,500 for family and $1,200 for individuals.)

Employees who work fewer than 30 hours per work will no longer be eligible to receive health care through the school department. (Formerly, the cutoff was 20 hours.) The committee also authorized the hiring of 12 part-time employees to replace six full-time positions – a move that will save the district approximately $198,000.

Superintendent Phil Auger’s original recommendations for cuts to ESP would have saved the school department nearly $600,000. Due to changes to the recommendations by committee members (including the one-percent pay raise and decision to raise health care cost share to 15 percent instead of 20), the committee will need to make $215,000 worth of cuts at its Tuesday night meeting in order to balance the fiscal 2012 budget before June 30 when the budget years ends.

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