‘On Backs of Lowest Paid Employees’ in Alexandria?

‘On Backs of Lowest Paid Employees’ in Alexandria?

School Board approves budget, despite concerns about privatizing school custodians.

In a 6-3 split vote, the School Board approved an $311 million FY 2020 Combined Funds budget on Thursday, Feb. 21, over concerns about outsourcing custodial positions.

The budget comprises a $286 million operating budget; a $15 million Grants and Special Projects budget; and an $11 million School Nutrition Services.

School Board members Michelle Rief, Heather Thornton and Jacinta Greene cast dissenting votes.

A particular point of contention was Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings’ proposed outsourcing of custodial jobs to a private contractor. Some of the division’s schools have already outsourced their positions, other haven’t yet. Hutchings thinks the move will improve cleanliness consistency across the division. It’ll also save about $1 million in operating expenses, according to earlier estimates from the schools administration.

“The bottom line is that it’s wrong to balance the budget on the backs of some of our lowest paid employees. And so, for these reasons, I can’t support this budget,” said Rief. “Having clean and well-maintained buildings is really essential to our core mission. [But] I’m not convinced that outsourcing this work to a third-party contractor is the best decision for our schools. … We’re being asked to speed up this process of outsourcing of our custodial services [originally intended to occur through natural attrition] by terminating 30 full time employed custodians at the end of the school year. These are employees who have a combined 330 years of service to Alexandria City Public Schools.”

When the outsourcing-by-attrition process began years ago, “the school district made a commitment to retain custodians until such time as they retire or move on [of] their own accord,” said Madeline Wingate-Alfonso on behalf of the Education Association of Alexandria, a local education employee organization. “We were not informed of this proposal until January. We were totally blindsided and shocked to learn that this was being proposed. We feel like a change of this magnitude, which impacts a number of employees, should have warranted discussion before January. There was a lack of transparency and timely information was not forthcoming.”

School Board member Margaret Lorber also expressed qualms about the transition. But she voted “with a heavy heart” in favor of the proposal, “in part for financial reasons,” she said. “I’m going to try to have faith” that the administration can figure out how to “transition them, as many as possible, to other positions within the school system,” or otherwise facilitate their “soft landing.” Among other supports, terminated employees will receive severance pay in the amount of $1,600 per year that they’ve worked. Lorber says she’d like the School Board to study the situation further and perhaps in coming years “reverse the trend” of outsourcing, going “back to in-house custodians.”

For more, visit www.acps.k12.va.us/budget.