Board allows for sub-contracting out district’s custodial services and sets budget

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W.G. Mallett School students and parents carry signs on their way to school this morning to protest the school board's decision Thursday night to allow custodial services to be sub-contracted out. Parent Peter Hardy said he supports the bus drivers/custodians who may get their janitorial jobs back if they are hired by the sub-contracting company, but without the health benefits they have now.

FARMINGTON – Mt. Blue Regional School District directors voted 9-3 to authorize subcontracting out the district’s custodial services following an emotionally-charged public hearing, which at one point, school directors were accused of “union-busting.”

The vote authorizes Superintendent Michael Cormier his discretion in either going with an outside janitorial company or finding a way to stay with an in-house staff. A minimum of $200,000 the first year will come from out-sourcing the services. A total reduction of $590,000 would come over the next two years from 21 bus drivers who now also work as custodians for full health insurance benefit to part time drivers only. A total of 23 health insurance packages would be eliminated and 18 custodians would lost their jobs.

After the vote to contract out, the board added back into the budget $30,000 for technical support and $35,000 for special education behavioral services. At the last meeting, directors added back into the budget two teaching positions that had been on the chopping block – one reading specialist and one math interventionist position. At the end of tonight’s meeting, directors voted to approve a final budget total of $28,907,417, which is an overall reduction of $84,565, if going to  subcontracting custodial work out.

Those against subcontracting custodian services spoke of putting local residents out of work, the quality of service would not be guaranteed and that those working for the district and not an outside company will care more about the students.

Bruce Rollins, a 15-year veteran bus driver and custodian, pointed to the importance in the quality of service and care of the children and said it, “wasn’t fair to hear threats of ‘if you don’t conform to the union contract we’ll be sub-contracted out.'”

The union has been in negotiations with the district for 14 months. The next mediation is scheduled for mid May. Director Paul Druan of Weld, asked Rollins who had threatened him. Rollins replied that no one directly, but “it’s just general, it’s there,” he said.

Former school board director Janice David of Farmington, called the sub-contracting out threat of losing several jobs lost as “union-busting. They shouldn’t have to go through what you’re putting them through,” she added. With that several in the audience applauded.

“Look at all these people who will lose their jobs,” Rollins said looking at a tally sheet of those who would be affected if another company takes over. “It does take a village to raise our children. I hope we can continue to keep our children safe,” he said.

Director Iris Silverstein of Farmington, said she was opposed to out-sourcing the work, noting she thought the employees would make less an hour, which will result in, “we’ll see more people struggling,” she said and added, the employees working for the district “they’re people committed to working with kids.”

Director Bill Reid of New Sharon, in favor of sub-contracting the work out, noted that many of the experienced custodians would probably be re-hired by the custodial company. “It’s misleading to say they won’t have jobs,” he said. He also noted that custodians get 100 percent insurance coverage under their current contract, while teachers get 83 percent and administrators get 80 percent coverage. “It’s amazing they do (get 100 percent coverage),” Reid said, “quite a deal.”

Director Raymond Glass of Farmington, said he would support the motion to subcontract out, noting this was his most difficult decision during his years serving on the board. He said over the last few years, cuts have made to the language programs, teaching positions, tech support, and that the Mt. Blue district is way below the state average school districts spend on education.

“I looked at this as the tipping point. We need to spend more on the educational needs of our students. We don’t have the money to pay benefits anymore,” Glass said. “We’ve asked for help and we didn’t get any. I hope we can begin talking and preserve what we have.”

“The number one priority is to education children,” Druan said. “It’s unfortunate it’s on the backs of support staff.”

Those directors voting in favor of subcontracting custodial services were Reid, Druan, Glass, Helen Wilkey of Vienna, Keith Swett, Angela LeClair and Robert Pullo, all of Wilton; Betsey Hyde of Temple and board chair, Mark Prentiss of Industry. Those voting against were Scott Webber of New Vineyard, Silverstein and Robert Flick of Farmington. New director, Jennifer Hebert of Starks, abstained.

Directors set the budget meeting for 7 p.m. May 21 at the Mt. Blue High School gym and the district-wide validation vote is May 24.

A big crowd in favor of keeping custodial services in-house attended Thursday night's meeting.

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