The Working Unemployed: Custodial Staff Not Told Before Outsourcing Vote
District voted last week to outsource custodial services without telling custodians, union presidents says
It was a Tuesday, after all. And while Bosak, of Cottage Place, wanted to go to the meeting, it was held during his shift at the high school. So he finished his rounds, took care of that portion of the high school for which he is held accountable, and he went home. Another Tuesday down.
But it was a Tuesday during the district’s budget season -- a time each year when custodians get a little nervous. When cash-strapped school districts are looking to save money, custodians start to worry about their jobs, Bosak said.
It wasn’t until the next day that Bosak, a 10-year veteran of the district, found out that he was among 32 custodians, the entire custodial staff, who will lose their jobs if the tentative budget approved last week is passed.
“I am personally insulted by the move,’’ Bosak said. “And discouraged and demoralized by the decision they took to remove us.’’
The Board of Education on March 8 voted 8-1 to introduce a tentative budget that at least temporarily shelved a plan to shutter West Belmar School, but opted to privatize custodial services. The move is expected to save the district close to $1 million. Board member Laurie Cannon cast the only vote against.
In the audience at that meeting was Joseph Martin, president of the Wall Township Education Association – the union that represents district teachers and custodians.
When he heard schools Superintendent James Habel say that custodial services would be outsourced under the tentative spending plan, Martin said it was a surprise to him.
No one from the school administration or the Board of Education had discussed the privatization of custodial services, Martin said.
“Neither the association nor the custodians were told anything about the decision in advance,’’ he said. “In fact, several did not know about it until I told them the next day.’’
Habel and Assistant Superintendent Sandra Brower could not be reached Tuesday. Business Administrator Brian Smyth did not respond to a request for comment.
Habel has said the $65 million spending plan is malleable and could be changed up to the March 29 public presentation.
Martin said he would press the district to pose the retention of custodial services to voters in a second budget question. There was no word late Tuesday if there had been any discussions about that proposal.
If it has to be done at all, putting it to voters to decide makes sense to Bosak.
“Is this what the parents of students want?’’ he said. “It just seems like it was a decision with very little input from the community. And dare I say, if the residents were asked, I don’t think they would want to get rid of what they have.’’
And what they have is underestimated by the district, Bosak said.
There are frequent events – community meetings, outings, plays, sporting events and the like – that happen in the district, particularly at the high school. Someone has to set up for those events, and tear them down when they’re over.
The district custodians now perform those duties as part of their jobs, mainly without overtime pay. If a parent is late picking up a pupil from a night event, the custodian will stay, Bosak said. That might not be the case with a contracted company, he said.
“There’s a personal responsibility to the kids, to the school, that’s going to be lost,’’ Bosak said. “I can’t see how that could possibly be better than what we have now.”
Bosak for the past two years has worked at the high school. Before that, he worked at Central School, and spent some time as a grounds worker before those jobs were cut, he said.
Bosak said he empathizes with the group of vocal parents who have rallied against the possible closure of West Belmar School, which the board has at least for now set aside in favor of cutting the custodians, and does not blame them for the board’s vote.
“They couldn’t possibly have known what was going to happen,’’ he said.
Bosak says he worries that the parents and students of the district may see a decline in the custodial service if they are privatized.
“This is going to go to people who don’t have ownership of this school,’’ Bosak said. “I know the teachers whose rooms I clean, I know the students. I take personal pride and responsibility for my section. When there’s vandalization, I take it personally.”
From his dresser, Bosak pulls down an award and a letter from high school Principal Rosaleen Sirchio that he and other custodians received just days before last Tuesday’s vote.
It was given to acknowledge the extra effort that custodians put in during the December blizzard by clearing snow and dealing with the fallout from the roof collapse, Bosak said.
“In recognition of valuable contributions,’’ he says, reading from the letter. “Three days after we were given this letter, we were fired. How ironic is that?’’