Decision soon on exploration of private custodial services

Decision soon on exploration of private custodial services

Michael Behm, a custodian at Scituate High School for the past seven months, participates in the rally Tuesday opposing a School Committee proposal to privatize custodial services. (Breeze photo by Robert Emerson)

SCITUATE – School custodians will receive an answer from the School Committee in two weeks regarding whether the district will explore privatizing the cleaning and maintenance of school facilities, said Chairwoman Erika McCormick during Tuesday’s meeting.

McCormick responded to Scituate Custodians Union President Joshua Homerston’s comments that Scituate’s 20 custodian union workers need to know if they should begin looking for new jobs.

“We’re not going to come back and work for a privatized company,” Homerston said.

He said privatization in other districts has not worked out, and many employees are not retained after some time passes with the new company. If Scituate decides to privatize, Homerston said custodians will leave.

Again, Homerston said, the committee needs to drop the concept of privatization, and begin contract negotiations.

“We like working for the school. We like working for the town,” Homerston said.

About 70 people attended Tuesday’s school board meeting, many holding red signs that read, “Our custodians are Scituate, no to privatization” to support the Scituate custodians whose contract may be in jeopardy.

The majority of those in attendance were custodians and supporters who also held a pre-meeting rally outside Scituate High School.

Several custodians and supporters made statements at the meeting, recalling stories of how custodians helped students feel welcome, safe, and that they were in a clean environment.

In a phone interview on Monday before the meeting, McCormick expressed concern that the custodians do not feel valued, but she said the School Committee needs to do its due diligence to explore alternative options to fill a budget gap caused by a decrease in state aid.

Again, McCormick said, privatization does not necessarily mean there will be changes to the existing staff. She read the same statement previously made at a Dec. 10 meeting.

“We sincerely hear and share your concerns,” McCormick told custodians.

After hearing from Homerston, McCormick said officials will take two weeks to come up with a decision on whether the town will investigate privatization or not.

On Nov. 1, the School Committee’s solicitor David D’Agostino Jr. notified the Scituate Custodians Union of the committee’s intention to put off contract negotiation until April so it could explore possible privatization of custodial services.

The School Committee did not decide on the issue Tuesday night, and McCormick said the committee is still in the process of drafting a request for proposals for the cleaning and maintenance of school facilities.

McCormick said there are privatization contracts that would keep existing staff at the same rates of pay and benefits.

Before the regular meeting was called to order, the School Committee again met in executive session to discuss negotiation strategies for the collective bargaining agreement with school custodians.

National Education Association Rhode Island President Larry Purtill said privatizing custodial staff will be a mistake if the district believes it will save money.

“These companies are in the business to make money. I’d like to see the math,” Purtill said.

Later in the evening, Supt. Carol Blanchette said she will be opening her office to the public several times before the end of the school year for community members to visit. Blanchette said she encourages anyone interested in sharing ideas, thoughts, concerns and solutions related to Scituate Public Schools to come by.

Some open office hours will be held Friday, Jan. 31, from 10 to 11 a.m., Friday, Feb. 28, from 10 to 11 a.m., and Friday, April 3 from 1 to 2 p.m.