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The Working Unemployed: Custodial Staff Not Told Before Outsourcing Vote

District voted last week to outsource custodial services without telling custodians, union presidents says

While throngs of Wall residents packed the Board of Education meeting last week to discuss the fate of and the upcoming schools budget, district custodian Dan Bosak went to work.

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 . 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 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?’’

Wall Resident March 16, 2011 at 03:55 PM
Love it Tom!!!!!!!!!
Richard Murdock March 16, 2011 at 06:20 PM
Usually contractors offer jobs to the existing staff as they are experienced and know the routines. Also, their contract should spell out responsibilities to mirror what is currently being done at no extra cost. Saving a million dollars a year versus laying off teachers is a no brainer.
Gary Fread March 16, 2011 at 08:00 PM
Yeah, They offer you a job that pays about 70% less with lousy benefits.You don't know what your talking about!
Keith Brown (Editor) March 16, 2011 at 08:04 PM
Everyone is passionate about some portion of the schools budget and its impact. But please, let's keep this one place where we keep discussion civil. Thanks.
Cristine Pasterchick March 16, 2011 at 09:16 PM
What else can the BOE do to stab us in the back? Last year Dave Rible introduced legislation that would cap administrators' salaries. Does anyone know what ever happened to that? We need it immediately, or this town will have a mutiny.
MORRiS Jurgensen March 17, 2011 at 02:55 PM
Gary Fread is correct. The custodians would go from making a living wage down to slightly above minimum wage. Subtract benefits from that and you are eligable for food stamps.
Michael Ferrell March 17, 2011 at 06:24 PM
The administrator's cap bill was passed, but is being challenged in court (keep up with the news please). It does not retroactively apply to existing contracts so all administrators barring court decision to the contrary will be subject to it in next contract talks. Mutiny avoided. We are absolutely suffering from a lack of the right to have home rule and decide our own budget due to the Trenton imposed budget increase caps. This is just the tip of the iceberg in how BOE's are forced to cut things that don't make sense in order to balance a budget where costs rise faster than the caps allow. A total lack of common sense. The custodians though have great impact on our kids, their safety and the assets in the schools. We should not be outsourcing these vital roles and should have safeguards if we have to (fingerprinting, immigration and criminal checks, bonding). Our BOE, not perfect, but really had to look to save somewhere with no real good choices... unless you want to close a school.....or cut sports, or cut other programs.....
Powertothepeople March 18, 2011 at 01:02 AM
Habel & his cronies are banking, irony here, on pitting the Save West Belmar School people against the custodial staff. There are other places cuts can be made. They planned it this way so people would freak and attack each other. He's already got our $$$. Don't let him have his way.
Michael Ferrell March 18, 2011 at 02:11 PM
A comment more to Powertothepeople: I am so curious as to where we can cut the budget....... perhaps if you could present that to all of us, bring it to a board meeting, prove what you say. While I don't know if it was a planned move to put West Belmar versus Custodians, it may have been the only dollar for dollar option. I don't support the board or superintendent on every issue, but sometimes it is clear there may not be much of a choice for them in the climate Trenton has forced on us. One thing is clear, we can't have it all under the budget caps. Perhaps you could also go and lobby Trenton to let us as a town run our school budget. By the way I find it so annoying that many who post are afraid to identify themselves in their postings...its easy to accuse in secret.
Hank Chinaski March 18, 2011 at 03:55 PM
The fact remains that as budgets failed, Habel and his crew got GOLD PLATED contracts from the THESE Board members. Remember the rallying cry of the late '80"s, "It's the economy, stupid?" The unheard cry here in Wall Township is, "Its' the Denali, stupid!" How can we pay one man a contract worth a total value of a $250,000, plus give him a luxury automobile to drive around town, then tell our custodians to take a 30% pay cut, or hit the road? Or tell our kids they have to pack 30 in a classroom (which Habel and Brower say has no impact on achievement, lol). How can we pay Brower a $350/day stipend, on top of a monster salary, to do the job she was hired to do in the first place? The answer is, because these Board members have gotten away with lining the pockets of upper administration, in return for God knows what, for the past ten years. The result? Lower achievement, loss of programs, crumbling buildings . . . Then, when a 2% cap goes in place, we are told that our custodians, or worse yet, our CHILDREN, have to take the hit! It's time to WAKE UP Wall Township! Take back control of our schools . Make them truly for the children again. Vote four new members onto this Board that will truly serve as stewards of our schools, not lackeys of the elite.
MORRiS Jurgensen March 18, 2011 at 04:01 PM
@Michael Ferrel, If the custodial staff is outsourced to the "lowest bidder" it will only be the first group to fall. You certainly can't believe an outside company will have a true selfless intrest in the well being of the schools? These outside companies only want to make maximum profit on minimum investment. As it stands the ditrict has a dedicated and caring custodial staff who take personal pride in their work. These are people, many who have been working in the district for over ten years and some close to twentyfive, have built their careers serving this district. If this group is let go for the lowest common denominator and its rotating cast of faces I assure you it will be one of the district's greatest losses. You will never be able to return the schools or the current custodial culture once you decide to destroy it.
MORRiS Jurgensen March 18, 2011 at 04:11 PM
@Hank Chinaski, The custodians were not told to take a "30%" paycut they were just told as of June 30th "To hit the road".
Michael Ferrell March 18, 2011 at 05:49 PM
@ Morris Jurgensen Let's be clear I never said I supported the custodian decision. I simply am pointing out how Trenton is interfering with our town doing what it wants! How did you ever think I support the custodian decision? I don't. I never would. I know all too well the problems and risks with outsourcing. I don't want a group of people around our kids that can change at a whim, and probably won't be vetted appropriately. And to get the necessary background, drug, fingerprint, and other checks from an outsourcer will probably reduce any real savings in outsourcing. The issue I have is everyone points at the budget and says there's room to save....where? When people make those "there's waste" statements please share the waste. I do question some of the contracts, and perks that have been given and hope the BOE learns the public is dissatisfied and changes that in the future. But we are bound by contract, and can only change it when contracts end or are renewed. A slate of candidates is a good thing...except some of them may have agendas and goals that really won't help us in the town. We need a way to compare the incumbent and new candidates easily which I hope Wall Patch will provide.
Mickey Brewster March 18, 2011 at 05:58 PM
Mr. Ferrell. While I understand you find it annoying some people are afraid of retaliation not for themselves but their children, which is why people prefer to comment under a pen name. Next. If you were at the BOE meetings you would have heard many other options suggested to the Board members by people in attendance. I believe the issue here is the fact that it was sprung on the community with no previous discussion in public which leads people to be very suspicious of everything the BOE does.
Hank Chinaski March 18, 2011 at 06:40 PM
There will most certainly be a public forum where the candidates assemble. At that point, all candidates, including current Board members, should be prepared to have a thorough inquiry into their backgrounds, track records, motivations and ideas. Candidates and current Board members should expect no stones to go unturned in this process.
Tom Coyle March 18, 2011 at 06:54 PM
Mickey has an excellent point. Several suggestions have been brought to the board in the last 100 days, only to be dismissed, or ignored, as too small for the cuts that were necessary. However, since January we had been told that janitorial outsourcing would only lead to $100,000 in savings. Then, somehow, that number jumped up to $900,000. Perhaps if the board went back and looked closer into some of the other suggestions that were dismissed at public meetings, they would find more substantial savings than they had initially thought. And Hank brings up a good topic as well. While I agree that there should be a public meeting where all candidates get a chance to present their platform, I don't feel it needs to turn into a witchhunt into the personal lives of the candidates. All of these candidates either have, or are willing to, serve our community for no compensation, other than our gratitude.
Michael Ferrell March 18, 2011 at 08:34 PM
Interesting and lively debate. We all care about our kids, and schools and town. Maybe this forces us as a community to increase our interest in what is the largest portion of our tax bills! Over the last three years my wife or myself have been to a majority of BOE meetings, challenging the board on things we are unhappy with, and complimenting what we thing are good ideas. We did miss the last two meetings due to illnesses and deaths in the family. But regular attendance from the public has been about a dozen of so people, and then large crowds whenever there is a issue that alarms people. And sadly once the issue is over, the crowd disappears. It is a sad there isn't a more consistent lively involvement by the public. The board has warned for more than two years that with Trenton's mandates (cap and less funding) there would be issues like this coming. I've found most board members receptive to questions and constructive comments when approached. Board members volunteer to serve, and regardless of the makeup after the election it will always be a thankless and tough job. There will also be a large dose of reality for any new members who will find out just how bound we are by a lack of common sense and support from Trenton.
Mickey Brewster March 18, 2011 at 11:23 PM
Mr. Ferrell. A lively debate it is and should be. I would love it if more people cared as much as we do.
tom lopez March 19, 2011 at 12:29 AM
Mickey Brewster - you have hit the nail on the head. Not enough people seem to care enough. That is why the budgets continually fail. Despite the lack of state aid for the non-Abbott districts, Wall would be ok if the budgets passed. We have approx 5000 parents and just 2300 yes votes would have passed nine of the last ten budgets. Then we would not have to choose between outsourcing custodians or closing schools. Remember, the only way to keep the WB school open is to pass the budget. Let's hope we will be successful.
Kathy Dweck March 20, 2011 at 01:28 PM
Right off the top I would like to say that I appreciate the efforts of our BOE. The issues that they deal with pertaining to having to fund state mandated programs are only a small part of what they do. I admire their time consuming dedication. Having said that, in all of the years I have tried to show my face and be involved, I was constantly befuddled to find that during our public comment venting forums, the issues were already decided. I'd heard mumblings months back about closing West Belmar. I thought, 'they won't REALLY consider that option with a need for a better venue for the Primary School and over crowding at Central. Maybe they will finally redistrict!' HA! Public out cry, drama, blame passed onto the voters if the budget doesn't pass. Threats on our custodial staffs lively hoods. In my own household some voters choose to stay home and NOT go to the polls and vote no. To you, the lack of attendance may seem like disinterest. I beg to differ. Fortunately, I now have children that can vote, so there is now a majority in our home. No one was more shocked than I YEARS back while running a PTA event, that someone brought up that EVERYONE vote yes at the polls. This was regarding passing the much needed referendum. One person stood up to say,'how dare you!' It opened my eyes to the fact, whether WE like it or not, not everyone feels that they can give their finacial support .
MORRiS Jurgensen March 20, 2011 at 02:48 PM
I thought this article was about the 32 hard working and dedicated custodians being blindsided and losing their jobs? Why isn't anybody in this dicussion talking about that?
Kathy Dweck March 20, 2011 at 03:26 PM
It's being spoken of on Face Book and such. At least one of our custodians is a life long Wall resident and has many contacts and much support.
Mickey Brewster March 20, 2011 at 04:21 PM
Hey Morris. The people posting here are discussing the problems over the years that have led us to this. While I can't speak for all of them, you most certainly have my support. It was down right under-handed how it was presented to the public at the last moment, and I assure you the situation is being closely examined by people other than the BOE.
MORRiS Jurgensen March 20, 2011 at 04:41 PM
These lay-offs won't just effect 32 individals but for the most part 32 families; spouses, children and households. Let us all pray that this catastrophe dose not result in the collapse of any of these lives.
Kathy Dweck March 22, 2011 at 09:04 PM
Thanks. ;>)
Todd Harvey March 22, 2011 at 09:20 PM
Mike Tranberg backed out of the race, is this true? Probably best since Dan Manson pulled the rug out from under him.
Keith Brown (Editor) March 22, 2011 at 09:27 PM
It is not true that Michael Tranberg has dropped out of the race for a school board seat. I spoke with Tranberg late afternoon Tuesday, 3/22/11. He is still in contention.
Todd Harvey March 22, 2011 at 09:33 PM
Then why did Dan Manson withdraw support for Tranberg after Mike Manson stepped out of the race?
Keith Brown (Editor) March 22, 2011 at 09:35 PM
I don't know that he did. I also don't know that he did not. I would guess you would have to ask Dan Manson about his actions to get an accurate answer.
Powertothepeople March 22, 2011 at 10:59 PM
Where'd my comment go? It wasn't inappropriate. I just thought that if you go to the trouble to run for the BOE you should be able to be a contributor.

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