Board of Ed Approves Custodial Outsourcing
The board voted to privatize eight night custodial positions at the high school, resulting in the loss of jobs for six district custodians.
The board of education would not be persuaded Thursday by a second round of public pleas to retain the entirety of its in-house custodial force. Board members sat and listened for over an hour as students, teachers and residents implored them not to privatize eight custodial positions, but when the resolution came up for a vote, they displayed none of the tortured hesitation apparent at last month's meeting.
Seven of the nine board members voted to terminate eight night custodian positions at the high school -- resulting in six layoffs -- and to expand the scope of its relationship with Aramark Management Services to take their places. Ron Barbarulo and Mary Wallace cast the dissenting votes.
Other than an impromptu speech in defense of custodial privatization delivered by Superintendent Bruce Watson, the board and administration kept mostly silent throughout the meeting, listening to the public's appeals.
The majority of the public's overtures on behalf of the custodians concerned the perceived need to preserve the school district's "family," and to assure the safety of students.
"Everybody is responsible for how our children come out," one resident said. "To just cast aside the custodians because it's efficient is wrong."
Watson said he felt expanding privatization of the custodial force was necessary for the district to continue providing the academic and extracurricular offerings its students and parents have come to expect.
"This is not about destroying a family," he said. "This is about trying to put a budget together with the limited amount of resources that are handed to us and to maintain the quality of education."
Watson said he felt for the custodians who would be losing their jobs, but that his priority was educating the community's children.
"This is a tough decision, I’ve lost a lot of sleep over this myself," he said. “I’m affecting human beings, I know that. But my job is children. Teachers are second, administrators are third, and I’ve got to focus the best I can on children.”
Saranne Krimsky, a special education teacher in the district, expressed concern that the board's decision to outsource custodians this year represented only the beginning of a large scale privatization of the district's workers.
“My fear is that this is an introduction of a little bit at a time," she said, citing a comment board member Elyss Frenkel made to the Community News about outsourcing in steps. "Next time it’s going to be a few more and then a few more and then a few more, before it’s completely outsourced."
Watson affirmed that the board's piecemeal custodial outsourcing was a pilot program.
“And can it continue?," he said. "Sure it can, if things don’t get better. If I have a governor that keeps telling me I get less money and you can tell me that salaries continue to go up, where else do I go to make a recommendation?”
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Antonio Artola, the Fair Lawn Custodians Association president, said after the meeting that he didn't believe the board's decision was economically motivated and asserted that Watson had been seeking to privatize the custodians for years.
“It was never an issue of money," he said. "It was just about making a point. 'I have the power and I’m going to tell you I can do what I need to do.'”
Paul Daniele, the custodians' New Jersey Education Association representative, said the district should have scheduled a sit down with the custodians since last month's meeting to work out a solution that would have allowed them to keep their jobs.
“To me this isn’t an economic issue because no one, no one here picked up the phone to call me or to call the field rep to come in here and say, ‘Hey let’s sit down together as a team...to talk about any financial things," he said.
In his opinion, outsourcing of the entire custodial staff is inevitable.
“Next year we’re going to be back in the same place and we’re going to redo this again," Daniele said. "And it’ll be, ‘We got to pay for something else and now it’s six more people. We like what you did, but we need to save the money.'”
The board's decision to privatize eight custodial positions rather than the initially proposed 13 will mean the district must also refrain from hiring four of the 11 proposed teacher and staff positions included in this year's budget, as well as postpone part of the bleacher repair at Sasso Field.
Watson said positions the district will no longer be able to hire include a speech teacher, a remedial kindergarten teacher, a social worker and an ESL teacher.
The elimination of the remedial kindergarten teacher position will force the postponement of the district's planned remedial full-day kindergarten program, which had been intended to bridge the gap for the growing number of kindergarten students who enter school academically behind their peers.
The termination of the six custodians who were laid off goes into effect on June 30.