Tri County Area Schools privatizes custodial services


By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 10:30 am on Thursday, May 16, 2013

SAND LAKE — The Tri County Area Schools Board of Education has voted to privatize another service.

The school board voted Monday to contract custodial and related services with Grand Rapids Building Supply. The school board previously voted in August 2011 to privatize transportation.

The Tri County Custodial/Maintenance Association, along with the Michigan Education Association (MEA) and the National Education Association (NEA), responded by filing an unfair labor practice against the district.

“It was a difficult decision for the administration and the board that was made in light of the district’s financial situation,” said Superintendent Al Cumings of Monday’s school board vote.

According to Cumings, the district — which serves students in Kent, Montcalm and Newaygo counties — has been operating with annual funding deficits for a few years now. During the 2011-2012 school year, the district used about $500,000 of its fund equity. Cumings anticipates the district will use about $1 million in fund equity this current school year.

“The continued financial strain on the district led to this challenging decision,” Cumings said. “The board is committed to providing the best possible educational opportunities for all the district’s students and to its mission statement of ‘helping every child achieve their best future.’”

The Tri County Custodial/Maintenance Association represents 13 employees. The association’s collective bargaining agreement with the school district expires on June 30. Negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement commenced on April 29.

The association, along with the MEA and the NEA, charge the school board has violated the Public Employment Relations Act (PERA) by engaging in unlawful direct dealing as school officials presented bargaining unit proposals and information directly to bargaining unit members.

According to the association, communications from school officials occurred during various evaluations and in other meetings with bargaining unit employees on April 14, April 16 and April 19.

“The board represen-tative(s), including without limitation, (Tri County Area Schools Facilities Director) Brian Akey, intentionally bypassed the bargaining unit team in engaging in the direct dealings,” a statement from the association read. “The respondent board has engaged in unlawful bad faith and surface bargaining. Respondent board is unlawfully seeking and conditioning the elimination of union seniority in exchange for not privatizing all bargaining unit positions. The board has unlawfully set preconditions for bargaining by including a demand that the charging party effectively eliminate the use of seniority with respect to job assignments, vacancies and transfers.”

According to the association, school officials violated PERA by taking action to privatize based upon anti-union motivation and, in the alternative, school officials violated PERA by failing to give association members an equal opportunity to bid.

Local school districts have been privatizing services for several years now due to budget issues.

In May 2010, the Lakeview Community Schools Board of Education voted to privatize transportation services and contract with METS. The district’s 20 bus drivers were laid off as a result.

In November 2010, the Vestaburg Community School Board of Education voted to privatize custodial services and contract with D.M. Burr Facilities Management. The district’s five custodians were laid off as a result.

In April 2012, the Belding Area Schools Board of Education voted to privatize custodial services and contract with Grand Rapids Building Services. The district’s 10 custodians were laid off as a result.

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