Nashville’s troubled budget season is finally wrapping up, after months of meetings and hearings.
But as Metro Nashville Public Schools faces $15 million in cuts that will eliminate 66 custodial jobs, members of the labor union representing those employees say they haven’t been listened to this entire budget cycle. At Wednesday’s Metro Council budget hearing of the MNPS budget, a group of Service Employees International Union members walked out of the meeting after they felt their situation was going unrecognized.
“Sitting here in our purple shirts made no difference. The only difference was made when we got up and walked out as a unit,” said Teresa West, chief steward of the SEIU for MNPS. “They call us support employees because we support the operation of teaching children. We are the foundation of schools, and they’re taking bricks out of the foundation by taking custodians and campus supervisors.”
The budget cuts stem from a city-wide revenue shortfall that has provoked troubles in virtually every Metro department. For MNPS, the planned cuts eliminate a net total of 209 district jobs. About 130 of those positions are for teachers, but district officials say no teachers will be fired – the district typically hires an average of 600 new teachers each year due to natural attrition, so MNPS will plan to hire 130 less than usual this summer.
Cuts of support staff and custodial jobs, however, represent actual layoffs. Employees will be laid off in order of seniority, with those newest to the district first to lose their jobs. MNPS officials have said they plan to work cooperatively with the SEIU in laying off the workers.
The custodial cuts will increase the square footage serviced by each custodian, and district officials say the new amount of space each custodian must cover is still below the Council of Great City Schools average.
MNPS custodian Andrew Linear, one of the SEIU members to walk out of the budget hearing, said schools are already staffed insufficiently with custodians.
“There are going to be some dirty schools,” Linear said. “They give us more work and less money.”
Families of school district support employees are already troubled by the poor economy, the SEIU members said. One woman at the budget hearing said her husband had recently lost his job, leaving her family with one income. SEIU member Betty Russell said the children of school district support staff are among the economically disadvantaged students the district is working to create programs to serve.
“So many of our children they’re talking about, the disadvantaged children, the low-income children, are children of our school employees,” Russell said. “They’re talking about us, because we’re the ones who aren’t getting adjustments in the pay scales.”
The budget isn’t final. It has been approved by the Board of Education and the mayor’s office, and is still being considered by Metro Council. Council members will vote on a complete city budget in the coming weeks. But SEIU members didn’t seem to have much hope their lot would improve.
“I think our Council members who tried to speak out on our behalf didn’t speak strongly enough,” West said. “I feel like the support employees were totally overlooked in this budget.”
Visit mnps.org for complete details of the proposed MNPS budget.