The aftermath of a controversial decision by the Belding school board to privatize the district’s janitorial staff in April has led to the start of an official recall effort of the board president and vice president.
According to Ionia County Clerk Tonda Rich, language of an official recall was submitted on May 14. After a clarity review hearing by the County Election Commission, which consists of Rich, the county treasurer and probate judge, the recall language was officially approved on May 25.
“The recall submitted is for two of the Belding school board members,” Rich said. “A group of people in Belding have submitted language to recall Board President Tom Humphreys and Vice President Timothy Flynn.”
Humpreys’ current term expires in 2013 and Flynn’s expires in 2014. Both men have served multiple terms on the school board and were reelected to the board in 2009 and 2010, respectively.
According to Rich, 678 signatures each must be gathered for the recall and must be collected within a 90-day period.
In order to make the November election ballot, the approved language of the recall, along with the minimum 1,356 combined signatures, must be submitted within 95 days of the election, which is Aug. 3.
Lynn Mason is acting spokeswoman for the group behind the recall effort. She also serves as an Ionia County commissioner and retired this spring as a physical education teacher after 29 years at Belding Area Schools. She said petitions are being circulated throughout Belding and have been for nearly two weeks.
According to Mason, the sole reason for the recall effort stems back to the board’s decision to privatize the janitorial staff.
“The main reason for this recall is that the committee working to recall Belding school board members feels that the school board did not listen to citizens’ concerns when voting to privatize the janitorial staff,” Mason said. “That should be one of their main duties as school board members.”
Mason cited two school board meetings where the issue of privatization was discussed. Both of those meetings were attended by a large amount of Belding residents who actively protested the option of privatization by voicing their opinion and protesting outside of the school administration building.
“At those two meetings, people had some pretty good things to say,” she said. “Whether it was residents or staff members, everyone gave the board something to think about. We didn’t want them to make a decision so quickly, we wanted them to do more research. If they are not going to listen to our suggestions, we feel something needs to change, starting with the leadership positions on the board.”
At a recent school board meeting, residents brought up the recall effort during the public comment period. Humphreys explained the board’s decision to approve the privatization.
“Regarding everyone’s feelings about the custodial staff and our decision, I understand people’s frustration,” he said. “It was extremely difficult for us to make that decision, but given the finances that we have from the state, we felt it was one of the decisions that we had to do to protect the financial solvency of this district.”
Humphreys said as many as 30 other cuts were looked at before a decision was made and future cuts are “inevitably and unfortunately on the way.”
“There are a lot more unfortunate cuts that are probably going to have to be made here in a short period of time to right that budget with the funds that we are getting from the state,” he said. “I understand the concern and the anger from some people regarding our position and decisions, but from our perspective, it’s not an easy thing to do and we’re doing what we feel is in the best interest of the community and the taxpayers.”
School board members approved a three-year bid from Grand Rapids Building Services on April 16, a move Superintendent Leslie Mount estimates will save the district $802,315 over those three years.
According to Mount, the largest contributing factors in the board’s decision to privatize the janitorial staff are a $470 reduction in state aid per student that was initiated by Gov. Rick Snyder’s office in 2010 as well as a reduction of 140 students from the 2010-2011 school year to the 2011-2012 school year.
That move will cost about 10 current janitorial workers their jobs when they are laid off permanently on June 30, which Mason said is unacceptable.
“Those of us who have worked in schools for many years understand the role that custodians play,” she said. “We see them not only cleaning and repairing, but the relationships they build with kids. They’re the ones that are there after hours, on the front line, who really get to know some of our at-risk kids.”
Mason said she believes the board could have chosen to make cuts in another area of the district’s budget, but according to Flynn, the decision to privatize the janitorial workers affected students in the smallest capacity in comparison to other cuts.
“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 (voted) 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.”
Both Humphreys and Flynn said they support community members’ right to exercise democracy and campaign for a recall election, but hope that residents are informed of factual information and make an informed decision before signing any sort of petition.
If a recall election were to take place in November, it would come at no extra cost to taxpayers because it will be placed on the general election ballot in November.