Unions take swipe at schools over proposed cuts

Monday, March 8, 2010 at 10:45pm

Unions that represent Metro school custodians and bus drivers are blasting cuts outlined in the district’s new budget proposal, arguing the plan unfairly burdens hundreds of employees who already earn low-to-modest incomes.

In a move to protect classroom teachers, Director of Schools Jesse Register has unveiled a $633 million budget for the next fiscal year that would outsource the district’s custodial services, and reduce the length of workdays for bus drivers from eight to seven hours.

These measures, along with slashing 24 positions within the district’s central office, are the most significant steps aimed at easing a projected $35 million budget shortfall.

News of the cuts immediately disappointed leaders of Nashville’s Service Employees International Union, which backs more than 600 school custodians, and the local United Steelworkers union, which represents the district’s 825 bus drivers. Representatives of both groups are expected to come out in full force at Tuesday’s board meeting, as well as at a public hearing on the budget set for Thursday.

Under the outsourcing approach, Register has made clear custodians currently employed by MNPS would receive first dibs on retaining their positions, maintaining the method would actually allow for more custodians to work inside schools.

Nonetheless, Mark Naccarato of Nashville’s SEIU described the reaction among custodians as “livid.”

“Here’s the danger,” Naccarato said. “They could hire folks back, but then you’ve got to look at stuff like favoritism and whether these folks are going to get a fair shake. This could be an opportunity for a lot of supervisors and principals to get rid of people who they don’t like.”

Just as worrisome, Naccarato said are uncertainties about employee health insurance, benefits and pensions for custodians contracted by a private company, along with their salaries, which he said he expects would decrease.

“We don’t know,” he said. “That’s just a big question mark.”

Metro schools, Naccarato said, briefly outsourced custodial labor in the early-1990s, but overhauled the plan after discovering the contracted custodians produced unsatisfactory work. In some cases, he said, contractors even stole from classrooms.

“Privatization and outsourcing is kind of a trend that’s over now,” Naccarato said. “There’s reams of data that says privatization and outsourcing is not the way to go.”

Reaction has been no less candid from Mary Eady, president of the local steelworkers union and a bus driver at Metro schools for 35 years, who pointed out the one-hour deduction from bus drivers’ schedules equates to 10 hours of lost income on their bi-monthly paychecks.

“We’re not happy about it,” Eady said. “I’ve been around for quite awhile. I went through five or six director of schools, and five or six mayors, and never once have the bus drivers been attacked financially as they have this year. We cannot live on these wages.”

Eady said a majority of Metro’s bus drivers are single parents. Though salaries vary according to experience, one driver calculated her deduction would take $3,400 from her annual income. If the budget is approved, Eady said several senior drivers would likely retire.

“It’s not fair to us. It should be across the board,” Eady said of the cuts. “With the economy, it’s hurting us like it is the administrators. Why does the lowest paid employee have to take the brunt of the blow?”

Register has called the transportation cuts “tough,” but said the district is paying for eight hours of daily service when bus drivers actually work for less than seven hours. “We think it’s only fair to tighten up there,” he said.

Eady categorically rejected Register’s math.

“It’s easy to sit up there behind a desk and say we don’t do the hours that we actually do,” she said. “The bus drivers can justify the eighth hour, and we plan on doing that, because we do so many things after our routes are completed that we don’t get paid for.”

 

5 Comments on this post:

By: RealityRosie on 3/9/10 at 9:25

Question: Are the outsourced staff to be cleared to work with kids, or is the stage being set for further child abuse by ineligible staff. Custodians interact with kids. Someone who hasn't been in a classroom for years might have forgotten that.

Question: When is the district going to spend the money to ensure a drug free environment by random and regular drug testing of teachers, administrators, other staff, and kids. Civil rights means testing everyone on an even playing field. Drugs are a major issue, whether the desk sitter knows it or not.

By: localboy on 3/9/10 at 10:08

Some of what the union reps implied in the story seems to be reasonable - that custodians and bus drivers are being asked to take a real hit - how many layers of admin are being cut at central office and in the schools? Is it an equal amount of pain?

"Question: Are the outsourced staff to be cleared to work with kids, or is the stage being set for further child abuse by ineligible staff." It's no more of an issue with the outsource positions than it is with current employees - outsourcing firms are required to follow all state and federal regs and take on the liability as well.

"Question: When is the district going to spend the money to ensure a drug free environment by random and regular drug testing of teachers, administrators, other staff, and kids. Civil rights means testing everyone on an even playing field. Drugs are a major issue, whether the desk sitter knows it or not." It's not part of the story - it sounds like someone is tired of being asked to pee in a cup.

By: michael thomas on 3/9/10 at 12:47

This is what will happen. First is take notice of the support staff being put into a situation for survival, this means a lot of them will not have a job and will more than likely cause your crime rate and insurance and unemployment rates shoot thru the roof. Wheather we like it are not if we do not stand up and let this be heard there will be a lot problems we have not even thought of. Lets start with most of the students are familare with the custodians amd some do not have role models. Also some custodians do more than just clean, if you look into it there is not enough maintenence people that can take care of the building let along the teachers needing things done right on the spot. If we allow the custodians to be cut we will be asking for our students to be in an enviroment with people they do not know as well as teachers and other staff may not want to feel comfotable being around them or the students. If nothing else keep the lead and senior people around. This is not a good idea. They have a lot of heavy salaries at the top, that is where they need to start the little 24 they are talking about cutting most are under the support staff. Go online and pull up mnps salaries and see for yourself. Mayor Dean Do NOT LET THIS PASS.

By: Magnum on 3/9/10 at 1:53

Localboy,

"It's no more of an issue with the outsource positions than it is with current employees - outsourcing firms are required to follow all state and federal regs and take on the liability as well." Is that supposed to be comforting. Too often we see where teachers/administrators/etc. were hired despite troubling, documented histories. This just adds another layer, thereby, increasing the risk of not running or acting on proper background checks. Am I supposed to believe the school system will monitor a third-party better than they monitor themselves?

"it sounds like someone is tired of being asked to pee in a cup." I can guarantee you she is not tired of peeing in a cup if she works for the school system. They don't randomly drug test. It's one of the safest environments (at least with regard to getting fired) to work in if you're a casual pot head. They don't test, so all you have to do is pass the drug test to get hired. While this wasn't in the article, it is a big miss and the poster was simply pointing that out.

By: timeforsolutions on 3/9/10 at 5:55

Wow! Looks like the union reps have released the hounds... including on this comment board. Let me sum it up for you: school funding/cuts are not based (nor should they be) on who makes the most/least; or who is more apt to commit crimes when unemployed; or "across the board so that way it's fair;" or any other method cooked up and deemed "fair" by some union thug whose salary is based on union membership enrollment!

Funding decisions, including unfortunate cuts, are and should remain a decision made by the leaders of the schools (accountable to the taxpayers) based on student achievement, nothing else. We need not cite MNPS test scores or NCLB status of schools to drive home this point. There have been some recent gains, but much improvement awaits Metro Schools in regards to quality of education, and the employee with the greatest influence on this is the classroom teacher!