OUR VIEW: Retaining janitors may not be fiscally responsible

By Daily News • Last Updated 11:26 am on Monday, April 16, 2012

The Belding Area Schools Board of Education is expected to vote Monday on whether to privatize the district’s janitorial staff.

It’s a vote that would save at least $300,000 — and cost nine janitorial workers their jobs.

The school is currently accepting bids for janitorial staff and the current staff has submitted a bid of their own. We hope it’s a bid the school board can afford to approve. It would be a shame for Belding to lose these jobs — and these members of the community.

Like janitorial worker David Enbody told The Daily News, “We do more than just cleaning around here. We help out with all the different activities. We come in and help out outside of our normal hours. I get calls at my house all the time from parents whose students have forgotten things in their lockers. There’s just so much more that we do that isn’t part of our job.”

Belding is not alone in considering privatized services to save school district funds.

In May 2010, the Lakeview Community Schools Board of Education voted to approve a contract with Michigan Educational Transportation Services (METS). The transportation privatization vote saved the district about $215,000.

As a result, the district’s 20 bus drivers were laid off.

While the Lakeview school board’s vote was unanimous, board members had deadlocked earlier that year when voting whether to seek a deal to privatize transportation services.

In November 2010, the Vestaburg Community School Board of Education voted 4-3 to privatize custodial services and contract with D.M. Burr Facilities Management. By privatizing, the school district hoped to save $40,000 for the remaining school year, $50,000 the next full school year and $60,000 the third year.
As a result, the district’s five custodians were laid off.

People voiced their support of Vestaburg’s custodial staff, including the mother of a handicapped janitor who had worked at the school for more than two decades. She explained how her son was willing to help at school events even on his non-scheduled work days. A support staff petition with 170 signatures against privatization was presented to the school board.

After half an hour of public comment, 18 minutes in executive session and another half hour defending their vote, the school board narrowly voted to privatize the custodial staff.
As Vestaburg Superintendent Jeff Beal said, “This is not an easy recommendation. If we do nothing, we will be out of money.”

We know it’s not an easy decision for Belding’s school board either. The majority of local schools are struggling to make ends meet while fighting to provide students with the best education possible.

We urge Belding’s school board to make a fiscally responsible decision, while still acknowledging the importance of their own janitorial staff. The nine individuals whose jobs are at stake are the ones who do the “dirty work” and ensure the school operates smoothly throughout the year.

Janitorial staff are often taken for granted, as they work behind the scenes. Let’s not take them for granted now.

Editorial opinions are the consensus of The Daily News editorial board.

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