‘Is this good for schools?’

Filed under DAYTONA BEACH

NAACP president poses question after Volusia County School Board votes to outsource custodial jobs

BY JAMES HARPER
DAYTONA TIMES

The local NAACP president is worried that a decision by the Volusia County School Board last week to outsource all custodial jobs will impact African-Americans and other minorities in greater numbers.

Cynthia Slater

Cynthia Slater

“I believe that outsourcing in and of itself could have a negative impact on employees regardless of race,” said Cynthia Slater in an interview with the Daytona Times this week.

Slater, president of the Volusia County-Daytona Beach branch of the NAACP, said the argument is probably being made that outsourcing is a cost-saving mechanism.

Good for whom?
“The questions that come to my mind is: Is this good for the citizens of Volusia County and is this good for schools? When jobs are outsourced, employers are looking for quality service at a cheaper price but quality of service is generally a major issue when jobs are outsourced, as is management control and accountability.”

“One has to wonder if the school board will actually save dollars by going this route, and if so, at whose expense? I would recommend that the school board take a good look at the ramifications of privatizing these jobs,” added Slater.

Disappointing decision
During its Feb. 12 meeting, the Volusia County School Board voted 3-2 to approve subcontracting with a private vendor for the  performance of all custodial and grounds maintenance functions of the district effective July 1.

Volusia County Democratic Party Chairman Vonzelle Johnson also weighed in on the decision by the school board saying his organization is standing  “with Volusia County working-class families.”

Ida Duncan Wright is sworn in last month as a school board member by Judge Hugh Grimes. Wright voted against outsourcing the custodial positions.

Ida Duncan Wright is sworn in last month as a school board member by Judge Hugh Grimes. Wright voted against outsourcing the custodial positions.

“It is very disappointing that some school board members allowed staff to push them to make management decisions on the backs of employees. This essentially tells about 485 employees, we can do better without you, you are not valuable enough to remain a part of Team Volusia, and by the way if for some reason we cannot find a good firm, we may just keep you around,” said Johnson.

Wright votes no
Volusia County School Superintendent Margaret Smith says that if the bids submitted from the request for proposals for a firm to handle the outsourcing of all custodial and grounds maintenance jobs do not result in a substantial savings she will recommend to the school board to not subcontract.

Ida Duncan Wright, the newest member of the school board and the only Black among the five elected officials, voted against the measure.

“I voted no because I did not have sufficient information to make a good decision. We are unable to bring alternatives to the table until you know what is on the table,” Wright told the Daytona Times this week.

The vote by the school board resulted in the elimination of five job classifications: custodian shift leader (facilities/maintenance and operations); head custodian (facilities/maintenance and operations); custodian; ancillary custodian (facilities/maintenance and operations); and utility crew – grounds maintenance (maintenance and operations).

Parent’s concern
Volusia Teacher’s Organization President Andrew Spar, speaking on behalf of his group that represents teachers and as a parent with a child attending Volusia County schools, told the Daytona Times on Tuesday that he has great concerns handing over the control of custodial jobs to a for-profit private corporation.

Spar said companies put profit first and he is worried about the screening process a new firm will use to hire workers.

“How are we going to ensure safety and security of people on our campus,” asked Spar.

From a parent’s perspective, Spar said the students are more likely to know the custodians who are currently working for the district.

“Our children interact with them directly — greeted by them every day. They are part of school community. When you lower wages it means turnover is going to be higher. My daughter may not see same custodian every day. They know who those custodians are. They are there  they care about that child,” explained Spar.

Jobless after June
Spar said his organization is asking people to contact school board members and ask them to reconsider this decision.

“They (school board) didn’t allow for thoughtful debate. These custodians make on average $23,0000 a year. These are people who live paycheck to paycheck who don’t own their own homes. Our district pulled the rug out from under them,” added Spar.

School District spokesman Nancy Wait said the last day of employment with the district for employees within these job classifications will be June 30.

More budget woes
Superintendent Smith said the recommendation to outsource was made in order to help protect students, classrooms and schools from further major budget cuts.

“Reductions already made each year, beginning in 2007, to student instructional programs, services and activities have hurt our students in learning and in achievement,” said Smith in a statement released to the Times.

Wait said the district does not have a number regarding the savings because it has just begun the process to request bids for the services.

The district currently spends $18.8 million for custodial and grounds services (salaries, benefits, uniforms, supplies, etc.).

“The decision to subcontract is a unilateral and non-negotiable managerial right of the district. The superintendent will make provision in the procurement process for the hiring of employees within these classifications and for a pension benefit by the vendor,” added Wait.

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