CHSD privatizes custodial services, supports orchestra program

REMUS – Impassioned discussion at the Chippewa Hills School District board of education special meeting Monday volleyed between the topics of privatizing custodial work and creating a nonprofit to fund the orchestra program. Ultimately, the board unanimously approved both.

In a move that would save the district $138,598 annually, the board authorized Superintendent Shirley Howard and Finance Director Sandy Weir to move forward in drafting a maintenance contract with CSM Services and laying off current district custodial employees. CSM is based in Hudsonville and would offer the same custodial services the district currently requires.

Shirley Howard

“It was the board’s hope to keep all of our employees employed when we went into negotiations,” Howard said. “On the tentative agreement, they kept the custodians employed by our district. It may not be at the same pay and with other concessions. … However, the contract was not approved by the (support staff’s) association.”

Howard offered to wait until Sept. 7 to actually sign a contract with CSM, giving the support staff more time for last-minute contract negotiations. The district employs 16 custodians.

“From my point of view, I want to keep all of our employees employed at Chippewa Hills,” Howard said. “But I know there needs to be concessions. … This (negotiation) can’t drag on and on and on.”

The Chippewa Hills Support Personnel Association negotiates contracts on behalf of all support staff. Twice, the union vetoed tentative agreements its negotiating team reached with administrators.

In an effort to make up for more than $1 million in lost revenue going into the 2012-13 school year, the board wanted to save $300,000 through a new contract with its support staff.

The tentative agreement – which would have saved the district about $284,000 if it had gone into effect before preparations for this school year began – included a wage freeze for custodians, concessions on benefits and changing their workload from 12 months a year to nine months a year.

The CHSPA found the offer unreasonable.

“From the association’s standpoint, we want to keep our members working. The fact that they offered us more time is a good sign,” said Keith Sauter, a Michigan Education Association uni-serve director who bargained on behalf of the union. “But they’re asking the lowest-paid employees in the district to give up $300,000. That’s huge. That affects their budgets, their ability to pay their bills, it affects their insurance. The membership said it was too much.”

Teachers agreed to a wage freeze and the loss of a step increase in their salaries for their latest contract.

In an amendment to Howard’s original proposal to move forward in privatizing custodial services, vice president Cathy Browers requested that the district pursue bids on privatization for all support services, including food services, transportation and clerical positions.

“When we’re looking at savings just from the custodians, it falls significantly short of what we needed,” Browers said. “In this district, there are no sacred cows.”

Bonnie Woodbury, who has worked for 22 years as custodian and bus driver for the district, warned that the quality of work would decline with a private company.

“There’s a lot of pride that comes into our jobs,” Woodbury said during public comment at the meeting. “(The private company) won’t take the pride and ownership, because they don’t really work for you. They work for the man who’s writing their check. … It’s all easy to see it on paper. It’s all easy to read a bid. But I’m telling you, what we do for the school is not just cleaning. It goes beyond cleaning. … Please consider what you may be voting out of your school system – pride and ownership.”

With tears in her eyes, Kelli Todd told the board she and her family may have to move out of the district because of the privatization. She and her husband, Marcus, both work in support services and will be laid off when the custodial services are privatized. Their three children attend CHSD, as did Kelli and her siblings when their father taught in the district.

In other business, the board approved the creation of a nonprofit to fund the district’s orchestra program, which was eliminated at a June board meeting in an effort to reduce expenses by $80,000.

CHSD alumnus Ryan Gilbert proposed a nonprofit – with income from community fundraising, alumni donations and grant writing – that would pay the salary and other expenses associated with running an orchestra program for grades 5-12.

“The fact that we have people willing to help us out at a time like this with their own personal money as well as writing grants means a lot,” said board president Nancy Yarrick. “If we have people who are so willing to help out our kids, I guess I don’t know how we could ever be in a position to not let them do so.”

While the nonprofit is founded and begins raising money, the board approved adding orchestra as an afterschool program and offering $4,000 – equivalent to a varsity coach’s salary – to the group’s director.

Howard said a Central Michigan University senior has expressed interest in the position.

“Certainly the orchestra has been a great program at our school. It’s for our students, and that’s what we’re here for,” she added.

The next regular board meeting will be at 7 p.m. on Sept. 10 at Barryton Elementary School.

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