BELDING — As Belding Area Schools Board of Education members gathered for their monthly board meeting Monday night, they first had to walk past a handful of protesters with signs raised high in the air with a message to stop potential privatization of the school district’s janitorial staff.
Board members were greeted by about 10 concerned individuals, dressed in yellow and carrying signs which read slogans such as “This is a people business” and “That’s not right!” at the Belding Administration Building.
According to Belding Middle School teacher Lynn Mason, the protest was in effort to ask the board to change its recent decision to open bids to private companies for the district’s janitorial services.
Superintendent Leslie Mount said this option is projected to save the district $300,000 per year.
Speaking directly to the board, Mason said she doesn’t believe privatization is the best choice to save money for the district.
“I’ve said it to you before that I don’t believe in privatization for a number of reasons,” said Mason during a public comment segment at Monday’s meeting. “Studies show it doesn’t work, it doesn’t do what the business or the school thinks it’s going to do. It doesn’t save money. The company only cares about profits and hires people who they pay incredibly poor wages. Your decision to do this … I don’t think it’s even about money. I think it’s some sort of control move simply to hurt the unions.”
Mount said the decision to explore privatization was not made lightly and all other options were carefully reviewed.
“We’ve made every cut we think we can that doesn’t hurt the kids,” Mount said. “Just like every other school that has done this before us, we’ve held out as long as we can.”
According to Mount, bidding for a privatized janitorial staff will begin soon and a decision is expected to be made by the next regular board meeting on April 16.
Under a privatized system, it is expected that the current nine full-time janitorial staff members would lose their jobs.
Mount said she and the board realize the concerns of Belding residents and school staff members, but the decision to move forward with privatization is “strictly a financial decision.”
“We are projecting that it is a savings of $300,000,” she said. “Last year we thought we had to make $1.7 million in cuts. Right now we are projecting at least that much for next year.”
Mount said the school is expected to spend more than $885,000 in fund equity this school year.
Tom Luehrs, a former para-educator for Belding Area Schools, said replacing people who have invested their lives in the Belding school system for potential workers who may not even be from Belding is “just wrong.”
“I think that we need to remember that these individuals that work for Belding in the custodial positions are generally residents of Belding, they spend their paychecks here, their tax monies go here, their children attend school here, they volunteer for after school activities, they attend church here and they’ve been loyal citizens to the city of Belding and supporters of these schools,” he said during the public comment period of the meeting.
Board President Tom Humphreys said this decision is one that “nobody on the board is happy about.”
“When you look at our fund balance, I think it shows that we put the possibility of this off as long as we possibly could,” he said.
Mount wanted to clarify confusion people might have about the $38.8 million bond levy that voters approved in 2010 and its relation to a situation like this.
“People attribute things that are being purchased through bond activity, and it is completely separate,” she said. “The bond was passed a couple of years ago for capital improvements and that is all we can use that money for. We could stop building today and we wouldn’t have any more money to help us in the situation we are in.”