Hundreds of custodians, some forced to peek through an open door because of limited space, jammed a public hearing last night on the school district’s proposed budget, urging the school board to reconsider outsourcing their positions.
Much of the crowd assembled outside an hour before, staging a rally — complete with megaphones, drums and chants — with help from the local Service Employees International Union, which represents custodians who work at Metro Nashville Public Schools.
Supporters of the protest wore stickers that read: “Privatization: A Race to the Bottom.”
At issue is Director of Schools Jesse Register’s proposed $633.3 million budget, which seeks to ease the district’s projected $35 million shortfall by outsourcing custodial work, currently carried out by more than 600 Metro school employees, to a private company. The move would save an estimated $5 million.
“It’s not right that they’re taking our jobs and sourcing them out,” said Lucille Moore, head custodian at Isaiah T. Creswell Middle School. “It’s not fair that we’ll have to work for $7 to $8 an hour for an outside company.”
Joining the ranks of disgruntled custodians last night were Council members Eric Crafton, Michael Craddock and Jamie Hollin, who each took the podium to decry the outsourcing proposal.
Register has maintained the budget protects the jobs of classroom teachers, which allows the district to avoid firing teachers like it did last year.
Though the custodial positions would technically be eliminated, Register has stressed that currently employed custodians would have first dibs on the jobs provided by a contracted outfit. Moreover, he’s said hiring an outsourced company would allow a greater number of custodians, groundskeepers and other support staff to work inside the schools.
Despite the assurance, some custodians said they’re worried about landing their same job again, with others doubting they would receive health benefits or retirement pensions under a new company.
Longtime custodians, meanwhile, cited the district’s short-lived hiring of custodial contractors at a handful of Metro schools in 1994, a move outsourcing opponents said was pulled because workers stole property and schools weren’t kept clean.
The school board is expected to vote on the budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year at a March 23 board meeting.
Other cuts in the proposed budget include slashing 24 positions within the district’s central office and reducing the number of hours for Metro school bus drivers, a move that has received equal scrutiny.