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School Support Staff Protests Privatization Plan

Union leader Val Porter said privatization could cost 100 employees their jobs.

It was a sea of red in the media center at Liberty School at Tuesday night's Board of Education meeting as support staff workers possible plans to privatize half of the jobs done by the unionized workforce.

Workers and many of their supporters wore red shirts to protest privatization plans. The action came at a meeting where Interim Finance Director Janice Warner explained that the district is close capsizing in a sea of red.

Val Porter, President of the Saline Educational Support Personnel Association representing 210 workers, said the district has put out requests for proposals for grounds and maintenance, transportation, secretarial and afternoon custodial work.  Bids will start coming in this week, Porter said.

Superintendent Scot Graden declined to comment, saying it was a collective bargaining matter. The district’s contract with support staff, teachers and administrators expire at the end of June.

Porter said the union has been told to take concessions or face privatization. But some support staff officials say there’s not much left to give.

“Every time we come to the table, you guys are like this,” said transportation employee Rita Engle, holding her hand out. “We’ve given and given and given. There’s nothing really left to give.  Before long we’ll have to pay to come to work. We’re not getting cost of living. Gas is going up. Groceries are going up”

Porter said that the union has received a one percent raise in the last four years while giving up health care benefits, holidays, sick days and more.

“All that has gone down the tubes for us in the last four years. And yet we’re bargaining again and they are asking us to give,” Porter said.

A wide range of workers spoke before school board.

Nancy Brewer, who works in the custodial department, said the work goes beyond cleaning.

“We keep our schools nice for the community and the kids who go there,” Brewer said. “We’re not just people you can throw away. If you privatize, you might save a dime, but you’re going to lose a bunch of people that care for these schools and for the kids that go here.”

Support staff received the support of the Saline Education Association, the union representing Saline teachers, as well as other speakers at Tuesday’s meeting.

“Support staff are our neighbors. How would privatizing a service, selling it to the lowest bidder and following a political handbook agenda increase care?” asked Juan Lauchu, President of the SEA. “Teachers work together every day with support staff to bring forth the quality of education expected from the community.”

Lauchu support staff are a big reason why Saline’s schools are viewed so favorably.

“There’s no political agenda. There’s no ideology. It’s just helping kids,” he said.

Jim Quinno, director of fields for Saline Area Soccer Association, said he worried what privatizing the grounds crew might do to his organization, which plays on fields owned by the district. Quinno said SASA works with the district’s grounds crew on maintenance, mowing and fertilization. “We’re here to speak in support of the grounds crew and to say that we’re concerned how this might affect our relationship with the school system.”

Warner is close to finalizing the 2011-12 budget. Expenditures are $260,000 less than projected in February, but revenue is down by $390,000.

The end result, according to Warner’s latest projection, is that the district anticipates total revenue of $49.6 million and expenditures of $51.3 million, for a structural deficit of $1.7 million.

Changes in school employee retirement benefits may save the district approximately $800,000. The district also hopes to raise one-time revenue with the sale of land at Woodland Drive and Maple Road. But even so, with no change in state funding and a projected enrollment drop of 71 students, the district projects a structural deficit of $1,983,000 in 2012-13.

That would eat up the remaining fund balance and throw the district into a negative cash flow situation, which could range from $375,000 to $1.2 million depending on the retirement rate.

Board Vice President Chuck Lesch, who ran the meeting in the absence of President Lisa Slawson, thanked the people who spoke.

“That’s how we learn what’s going on, from listening to you,” Lesch said.

The board has set a special education meeting fro 6:30 p.m. Monday at Liberty School. 

Aaron Mukerjee June 14, 2012 at 03:11 PM
It is unfortunate that the district is having to take such short-term measures to balance the budget rather than looking at long-term cost savings (especially because this seems to be the trend in SAS). Not only is Mr. Friese correct with regard to long-term increases in retirement costs for the district (as a result of a system where more are taking out and less and less are paying in), but the district also lacks control over the quality of the privatized services. This in turn affects the quality of our schools. Even more disturbing is that the reason we are taking short-term measures is because of cuts in Lansing, yet rather than advocating for public education, some of our school board members continue to support candidates who propose cutting further education funding to most districts (despite a surplus).
John Carter June 14, 2012 at 04:08 PM
David and Aaron...I am a rational individual, but more importantly a realist. When you lose over a million jobs in your state since the year 2000, you just can't sustain the "public trough". Typical rationale by liberal democrats exclude anything but more tax and spend policies. The 20th century has moved on. We're trying to teach that to our students. Wealth creation happens in the private sector. Wealth transfer happens in the public sector. Only wealth creation is sustainable; wealth transfer requires increasing large amounts of funds from the private sector, strangling wealth creation activities. This is a classic case of the parasite killing the host. Successful parasites allow the host to flourish. Government spending to stimulate the economy is a favorite of the Keynesians but is no more effective than a perpetual motion machine. Make the cuts now and take some pain. We should have let the economy hit bottom in 2009 instead of doing a stimulus. It would have led to a V shaped recovery instead of having us poised on the edge of the double dip. ie., you can't spend more than you have. Throwing money after the problem will not solve it.
Aaron Mukerjee June 14, 2012 at 11:47 PM
John, I understand your point of view and the idea that cutting taxes for the "wealth creators" will allow them to flourish and will positively impact our economy. Furthermore, I agree that the corporate tax rate in the U.S. is too high to allow business here to be competitive. But what I also understand is that aggregate demand is what fuels job creation. After talking to numerous small business owners, it has become clear to me that businesses do not expand because of tax breaks. They expand because there is demand for a service or a product and they can profitably meet that demand. Proponents of the "wealth creation" model you referred to believe that cutting taxes for the wealthy will solve both ends (it will create opportunities for supply and increase demand). But history (including Bush-era tax cuts) tells us that the most wealthy individuals save the money they are given in tax breaks, particularly in a volatile global economy (as in the one we are experiencing right now). This is why we never see the "trickle down" effect actually occur. What does spur economic growth in a 21st century service-based economy is an educated workforce. We have a state government that is choosing to make short-term investments to try to attract business rather than long-term investments in education. Just as with privatization at the local level, this is a band-aid fix that creates even more issues in the long term.
Aaron Mukerjee June 14, 2012 at 11:52 PM
There is also certainly a difference between corporate and income tax breaks, but because you seemed to advocate for both, I did my best to address both within the word limit :).
Randy June 15, 2012 at 07:13 AM
John, the Democrats have to take some blame here, too. Granholm's biuy out plans meant that more people were retiring earlier than ever, through the retirement system into chaos. But the thing the Republicans can not run from is that when times were bad and budgets were broken, they were crooks. They cut taxes for businesses. And they raided the school aid fund to do it. Now, if you're a real Republican, you should be able to look at the public in the face and say, Yes, we cut school funding to pay for tax cuts because we believe tax cuts stimulate the economy and that will eventually create more revenue for schools. But the Republicans in Lansing can't even own up to their own beliefs.

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