Belding Board of Education votes to privatize janitorial staff

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 11:32 am on Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Protesters and members of the community gathered at Monday night’s Belding Area Schools Board of Education meeting against the privatization of Belding’s janitorial workers. — Daily News/Cory Smith

Belding janitorial services bids

CSM Services: $447,203 per year
*Grand Rapids Building Services: $491,352 per year
Hi-Tech: $495,396
BESPA (current janitorial staff): $365,566

* winning bid

BELDING — With a quiver in his voice and a tear in his eye, Belding Middle School janitor Wayne Addis thanked the Belding Area Schools (BAS) Board of Education last night for giving him the “opportunity of making my dream come true in employing me as a custodian at Belding Area Schools for a very happy period in my life.”

That happy period will now come to an end after school board members voted unanimously 6-0 to approve the privatization of the school district’s janitorial staff Monday night in front of a crowd filled with protesters and concerned members of the community.

Before the decision, Addis, who has worked as a custodian for 12 years in Belding, read a prepared speech from a piece of paper he held in his trembling hand as he steadily kept himself composed.
After stopping himself when running out of his allotted time to speak, the board gave him permission to continue his statement.

Wayne Addis, a current janitorial worker at Belding Middle School, reads a prepared statement to the members of the Belding school board explaining the value of the current janitorial workers in Belding. — Daily News/Cory Smith

“I’m so proud of the work I’ve done here and I wish I could continue under the current system,” he said. “I will always be proud of my decision to become a custodian.”

Members of the board officially approved the bid of Grand Rapids Building Services (GRBS) for three years, a move Superintendent Leslie Mount estimates will save the district $802,315 over a three-year period.
That move will also cost eight current janitorial workers their jobs when they are laid off permanently on June 30.

“We sent this proposal out several weeks ago,” Mount said. “It came about as a function of the fact that we are looking at anywhere from $1.5 to $2 million in cuts next year. This is after nearly $3 million in cuts over the last few years.”

Mount then read off a list of more than 20 cuts that have been made since she has arrived as superintendent nearly two years ago, none of which she said have been easy to make.

“We do believe we have to look out for the best interest of our students and try to keep as many dollars in the classroom as we can,” she said. “It’s an environment where nothing that we cut is enjoyable to any of us. This certainly isn’t what I anticipated dealing with when I moved into this job, it’s not fun … but right now my charge is I have to look out for the 2,000 lives that count on us and can’t speak for themselves.”

A hard decision

Board member Timothy Flynn said this was an especially hard decision to make because the janitorial workers are members of the community, and he knows many of them personally.

“I want to express that this is not an easy decision,” Flynn said. “I’ve known Mr. Powers (a janitor) for nearly 40 years. I’ve known his family. His mother was my Sunday school teacher. These are people, I completely acknowledge that. But I also acknowledge that we are vested as a body to protect the programs of this district and the students that we service.”

Flynn stressed that the decision to privatize is not the fault of the current janitorial staff.

“I don’t take this (decision) lightly,” he said. “It does impact our community in many ways. It’s not the fault of our custodians that we are in these dire circumstances. But with respect to my duties on this board, administrating public monies for the sole purpose of educating our students, I will be voting in support of this so we can maintain the financial stability of this district. There is no other cut that we could make that would be any easier.”

A breach of trust

For Connie Boylan, the Michigan Education Association director of Michigan, the actions of the board Monday night were a breach of trust.

Michigan Education Association Director of Michigan Connie Boylan argues to the board against the prioritization of Belding’s janitorial workers at Monday night’s meeting. — Daily News/Cory Smith

“I have a (news) article here where your school board said that they would make it a priority to continue working with the current employee’s contracts,” Boylan said during the public comment session. “You have accepted a bid that was higher than their bid. Their bid for the services, it was the lowest bid and you turned them down — you did not even give them an opportunity to sit at the table and have a conversation with you about what they could do to help you.”

Mount said there was a misconception as to what constituted the current janitorial staff’s bid as being the lowest submitted bid.

“The bid from the support staff was the lowest one, but it only included those who were not planning to retire,” Mount said. “The costs did not include the two additional private custodians we have currently or the ones we would have to replace (those who are retiring). We had to add the costs of those positions to their bid, which did not make it the lowest. Unfortunately, not all the mandates were met (in their bid).”

Loss of students hit budget hard

Mount said the previous article Boylan referred to, a Daily News article from September 2011 which said the district would attempt to save money by “doing so through attrition,” where janitorial workers would keep their jobs and eventually be replaced by privatized workers over several years, was no longer an option.

“We were hopeful when that model went into place, but after that model went into place we lost 140 students,” she said. “That is about a half a million dollar hit on our budget. We continue to plan to budget for next year and we’re finding that it is going to continue to get worse in all areas.”

Board President Tom Humphreys said the accepted bidder, GRBS, has worked with other school districts such as Lakeview, Wayland, Byron Center, Holland and Albion.

“They do a ton of schools around the state,” he said. “It is a shame that it has come to this, none of us feels good about it, but the fact is we have to do something quickly regarding our finances.”

Belding Superintendent Leslie Mount (right) and school board member Scott McNeal listen as community members speak during a 30-minute public comment session at Monday night’s meeting. — Daily News/Cory Smith

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