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School Board Votes, 'With Sadness,' to Outsource Busing, Custodians

Employees will receive layoff notices in the coming day after Rochester school leaders approved three-year contracts with two private companies to manage their services.

Choosing from what they called a "bucket of bad choices," the Rochester Board of Education voted 7-0 Monday night to outsource transportation, custodian and partial grounds services beginning in the fall.

It's a move that will over the next three years and it's necessary, board members say, as the district is facing a $10.8 million shortfall next year — the largest in Oakland County, Superintendent Fred Clarke said.

It was a vote wrapped in emotion: Board members and a crowd of about 100 people listened for almost an hour as transportation employees pleaded with the board to keep their jobs.

"This saddens me deeply," said Kristen Schwark, the aunt of a student and a transportation department employee. "Making this decision will be wrong on every level except balancing the budget.

"Do you realize the chaos that will ensue next year?"

Andrew Jaracz, also a transportation employee, said the board would be guilty of "148 counts of wrongful termination of employment" if it voted to privatize.

And Rebecca French, the parent of a special needs son who was driven for 20 years by the transportation department, told board members to "consider the old adage: You get what you pay for."

Clarke put the decision in perspective: state cuts to education have forced the board to make difficult decisions.

"The funding is just not there anymore," Clarke said. "None of us went into education because we want to cut budgets. That's the state we're put in by our legislators.

"We have to look at noninstructional cuts from the budget before instructional cuts. There are no good choices. As one member of my administration team said, it's a bucket of bad choices. It's close to the heart."

The bottom line, Clarke said, is that outsourcing transportation services to Durham Services will save the district $4.7 million over the next three years. The contract with GCA Education Services will save $7 million over three years.

"We are in crisis mode right now, and I wish there was some other way to do this," he said.

Board members asked for clarification on several components of the contracts with both companies. Here are the answers they received from school administration:

  • The move will, essentially, eliminate the entire transportation and custodian departments as well as three grounds positions in the district.
  • All of the employees in those departments will receive layoff notices, except for the transportation manager, who will be kept in that role for one year to help facilitate the transition.
  • The contracts will be for three years; after that, they will be reviewed year by year.
  • Laid-off employees will be able to apply for positions with Durham and GCA. "They are very, very interested in working with our staff," Dan Romzek, assistant superintendent of business, said about Durham. He mentioned Durham will offer an incentive for current drivers to work for the company. Both companies perform drug and alcohol screenings and extensive background checks, Romzek said. GCA's screening process for custodians is more extensive than that done by the district now, Romzek said.
  • Durham trains drivers to assist special needs children.
  • Durham will provide busing for field trips and athletic events as well as for school. The buses will still say "Rochester Community Schools."

A committee of board members and administrators performed background checks on both companies, visiting other schools in Oakland County that contract with the companies and talked to building principals for first-hand references.

Board members said their decision came with sadness.

"We would be naive to believe we are making a decision that doesn't come with a loss to our district," board member Beth Talbert said. "A number of years ago we asked that employee group to step up and they did. There has never been about any doubt in their work ethic."

Talbert said that if the board did not vote to outsource the transportation department, she feared that soon the district would not be able to afford transportation at all.

"There is no decision that won't have a human impact," she said. "Keeping buses is a critical service. I support this with sadness."

Julie Wright, a graduate and parent in the district, advised board members and community members to direct their anger about its decision not toward the board but to their representatives in Lansing. She specifically called out Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, and Sen. Jim Marleau, R-Orion Township, for making cuts in state education, which local districts are "powerless" to battle.

Board President Jennifer Berwick, who repeatedly had to calm the crowd during Monday night's meeting, said the district was "hanging on by a thread."

"As board members, we have to make decisions that are in the best interests of our students," Berwick said.

For more about Durham School Services, visit www.durhamschoolservices.com. For more about GCA Education Services, visit www.gcaservices.com.

Follow the conversation about this issue on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/RochesterPatch.

Kristin Schwark April 17, 2012 at 01:52 PM
Just a clarification, that I am an "Aunt" of a Meadowbrook student. Nice analogy Amy, couldn't agree more!! Kristin Schwark
George Taylor April 17, 2012 at 02:01 PM
If privatization is so safe, and a sure way to save money, why don't we privatize administrators and teachers? Now look at the savings!
Pamela April 17, 2012 at 03:17 PM
I hope the city of Rochester does not sell all their cleaning equipment to this company. In a year when they want to go back they will need it. Hugh Mistake
Gail Sornson April 17, 2012 at 03:18 PM
I would like to know what RCS is going to cut next. how much you want to bet it will be out of the classrooms next not from the top admin.
Christopher April 17, 2012 at 03:29 PM
I agree, those underperforming teachers with tenure and inflated wages need to go next!
Christopher April 17, 2012 at 03:35 PM
I don't think this point is having the impact you want it to have. I think there are still many people who believe that public sector employee's are overpaid. These people also know that the NEA/MEA has too much power in Lansing and Washington to be defeated at this time, so we'll take what we can get and move on to the next round.
Christopher April 17, 2012 at 03:40 PM
Other districts have struggled because they waited to long to do this and allowed hold-over pro-union employee's to sabotage the outsourced services. Don't re-hire a single one of the former employee's that was part of the union and you'll increase the odds of success 10 fold.
Kristin Bull (Editor) April 17, 2012 at 04:40 PM
Thanks, Kristin!
mary April 17, 2012 at 06:24 PM
Christopher-What evidence do you have that tenured teachers in Rochester are underperforming? In what way? What do you think a wage should be for a professional with a masters degree charged with educating children? As far as privatizing-this is just a couple year fix. Other states have tried this (bussing in particular), and once the price goes up, they districts are stuck. Why??? They would have to buy a whole bus fleet. Who will have money for this? We need to look at Michigan's governor and legislature. They are purposely starving the schools and cities in order to privatize. They are privatizing so that the corporations can make money. Why are we rooting for corporations over middle-class people?
Diane April 17, 2012 at 06:58 PM
Wow what a shame, so sad to see the custodians and bus drivers leaving. Big Mistake!! Diane
MOM!!!! April 17, 2012 at 07:32 PM
The drivers will likely keep their current jobs. The corporate structure at Durham's isn't going to bring in all new employees. We moved from California 18 months ago where there hasn't been bussing in our former school district for at least 8 years due to budget cuts...no bussing! I'd say outsourcing is a better solution than budget termination. The next step is to cut it all together and if that's the case we'll all get real familair with the carpool lanes at our local schools. Our former school district also had no music, no gym and no art classes in the budget....it could be worse here.
Terry April 17, 2012 at 07:34 PM
THUD...Thats the sound of the School Board kicking the problem down the road for another year. The problem is that no-one wants to face the fundamental issue. We have too many school districts, too many administrators, to many contracts, etc.... So...lets focus in bus drivers, school sports, etc.. That makes about as much sense as our President spending 12 hours a day pitching a tax increase that tackles a whole 11 hours of the annual problem. The legacy cost structure will not survive in the long run with a shrinking workforce and economic base. It will require painful changes that no-one wants to face.
Diane April 17, 2012 at 08:16 PM
I agree, why can't the administrators take their cuts to show good faith when they are asking everyone else to do so? The rich get richer & the rest of us hit the unemployment lines & lose our houses, too. This is just wrong in every way. Unfortunately, it will take a while to be proven how wrong but by then it will be too late. Cindy
RHS-02 April 17, 2012 at 08:20 PM
The students, routes and busses have stayed the same. Am I the only one who's wondering WHY the current bussing staff couldn't match the price of an outsourced company? Seems to me that a pay cut is better that a job cut. Still, it's sad anytime jobs are lost, but in a SCHOOL district, education should come above all.
Jeremy Nielson April 17, 2012 at 08:30 PM
RHS-02: As I understand it, the district has to pay into a state pension fund for each bus driver and grounds keeper. That adds on 30% to the pay rate of each employee... For every $10k you pay an employee, you also have to pay $3k into a pension fund for them. (Thus, the average Rochester teacher earns $71,000 per year - and the district has to kick in an extra $21,300 to their pension fund). The outsourcing companies don't have to pay into the pension fund for employees - many do what we all do, which is save money in a 401k instead. As a result, outsource companies can actually pay their employees MORE - and still save the districts a lot of money.
Joshua Raymond April 17, 2012 at 08:57 PM
Mary, RCS will retain ownership of the buses so that they can revert if necessary. I do not see this as corporations vs. middle-class people. If money is saved via privatizing, this allows taxes to not be increased on the middle class. This is about business and government both being fiscally sound and paying market wage for services. Corporations that are not fiscally sound are beaten by competitors and fold. Governments that are not fiscally sound attempt to raise taxes until the people say "No more!" Then they finally try to make cuts that they know will make some group or another mad. Our current government believes the people have said "No more!" Now we need to curb our spending to what taxpayers will allow. It's going to be painful and some are going to suffer much more than others. Municipalities and school boards are going to have to look at the value of each area and decide whether it is costing too much and it can be obtained cheaper elsewhere. As the belt tightens, this will happen to every department.
fred April 17, 2012 at 10:14 PM
More money for us teachers, yeah....
fred April 17, 2012 at 10:16 PM
Can't wait until they outsource payroll, HR, and the computer dept to Oakland schools. It's coming.
Kristine April 18, 2012 at 03:19 AM
There are no good outsourcing stories. The school communities are being dismantled one brick at a time. Sadly, it is happening everywhere. We will see the impact of this error/decision very soon, but it will still be too late.
chris murray April 18, 2012 at 03:45 AM
Jeremy, the key word is can pay their employees more however, reality is that they don't and won't. Many will quit since they can't afford to support their families on what the new wage will be.
dk April 18, 2012 at 09:33 AM
Just keep on voting for McMillin and Snyder. Go ahead, sacrifice our kids and community at the alter of "small government" - unless its tax money going to companies and for-profit charter schools. Go ahead - "cut taxes" on business and the affluent and hand the bill to our kids. Hopefully, this community will stop voting for ALEC and Mackinac Center funded idiots and ideologues like Snyder and McMillin and put their money and votes behind their kids.
Daryl Patrishkoff April 18, 2012 at 12:21 PM
In these times fiscal responsibility is called "Radical", I say it is "Radical" to not operate your finances within a budget. We need to accept that there is a problem, there is no one to blame, we need to adjust to the new normal and stop thinking we are victims. The approach in this situation is to cut in areas that do not have large resistance. These 2 groups are a small percentage of the total number of employees and the large groups are left untouched, they are the protected sacred cows. True leadership in this situation is to have "Shared Sacrifice" at all levels of the organization. This makes the entire organization to understand we all are in trouble and have to change to survive in the future and does not pit one group against the other. As you look at the budget the board is still deficit spending. They are using the reserve to fill the gap for this year and kicking the can down the road. In the past they kicked the can down the road many times with budget gimmicks, stimulus money and mileage increases, none of these efforts made it sustainable. I read in the Oakland Press that 27% of the RCS budget has is to pay retirement costs and growing. I was also disappointed to read the board said residents should take their anger to the State Legislature, not them. We should hold the board accountable for kicking the can down the road and not addressing a fiscal responsible sustainable model for our schools that has “Shared Sacrifice.”
Christopher April 18, 2012 at 01:39 PM
Mary, it's easy. Our position as a nation, when compared to the rest of the world, in terms of academic excellence has fallen pretty consistently over the last 40 years. I don't think it's a coincidence that during this same time frame the power of the unions to protect under-performing teachings and to secure wage and benefits increases based on seniority not performance was increasing. Rochester may be better than average...when compared to Detroit, but it fails when compared to cities around the world, many with far lower budgets. Anyone who has to produce a measured outcome in order to get a raise, thinks you're overpaid. Anyone who has to worry about getting laid off, thinks you're overpaid. Anyone who has to work in June, July and August, thinks you're overpaid.
Christopher April 18, 2012 at 01:43 PM
Oakland, what you're seeing today is the average person realizing that the MEA's mantra of,"It's for the Kids!" has always been a lie. Teachers strike for more money, more benefits, more days off...not for year round school (proven to improve learning), or anything else that actually helps the kids.
Terry April 18, 2012 at 03:25 PM
Lets see....... DEMOCRATS- We need more money, its the Govenor's and Legislators fault REPUBLICANS- Privatize, Charter Schools, etc.. MEA- We need more money, don't touch my pay and benefits REALITY- The current economic trend will bankrupt the school districts. We can no longer afford the pay and benefits public sector employees have had over the last 25 years. The same is true in the private sector, where pensions have been eliminated and co-pays increased. This is not a partisian argument. Its basic math. We are an aging population with fewer workers conributing to a growing retiree base. The truth hurts....
Doug April 18, 2012 at 05:17 PM
Funny - last I knew, communities elected school boards and school boards approved contracts. Don't like the teacher contract? run for the board! since less than 10% o the people in any community vote in a school election, the rest of you must agree with what is being done.
MrsSchultz April 18, 2012 at 11:56 PM
@RHS-02, the transportation department HAS made cuts. massive cuts, and given up a lot to try to keep our jobs. but we couldn't come up with the $9 million within our department that they said was necessary to keep from privatizing. when broken down, i barely make minimum wage as it is. as a sub driver, i bring home an average of $250-300 a PAY PERIOD, averaging about 30 hours a pay period. as in, every 2 weeks. sorry, but i don't think we are overpaid. with all that we have to deal with between the students that have attitude problems, to the special needs kids, and then there are the parents that insist that their kids are perfect and there is no way it was their kid that did something wrong, that it had to be the other kids and the driver and they are out to get their kid specifically. plus, we have all the stuff to deal with on the roads and the conditions in the winter time. i think we deal with a lot of stuff that is never publicized, and if you had to deal with all that we do, while still liking your job, feel free to apply and try to fix whatever it is you think we couldn't.
mary April 19, 2012 at 12:40 AM
Christopher-Why didn't you become a teacher??? After all, our job is so easy. By the way, the last day of school is June 15th. We report back in August. Do you think that the classroom magically prepares itself? Do you think that lessons magically appear along with smartboard activities etc, etc, etc? By the way, do you think we only work when the students are in front of us? Do physicians only work when they have patients? Do lawyers only work when they are in court?
Mama Kim April 22, 2012 at 06:02 PM
From a Mom's vantage point, all I see is having to teach my kids that there really are no "safe" adults. And to head off those who may think I am installing the "Don't question, do as your told Clergy person/Scout Leader/insert authority figure here" mentality in them, definately isn't happening. But for my kids to not even be able to count on the same faces every day at a 'trusted' place like school disturbs me to my core. I already pay almost $200 for my kid to play a HS sport, and I do so gladly because not everyone chooses to play, or is able. But janitors and bus drivers? Not so specialized. Can't understand why the budget as a whole wasn't reviewed with scrutiny. Everyone could have taken a few small lumps for the overall good. It makes no sense.
Christopher April 23, 2012 at 01:33 PM
Mary, I didn't become a teacher because I couldn't imagine the boredom of teaching the same 12 chapters of a textbook year after year, or being surrounded by the liberal union zombies marching toward tenure and retirement. I love that you want to count the time when the students aren't there. It has to be really hard and extremely stressful to decorate while chatting with the other teachers. "I think I'm going to go with an autumn theme for the room this year, I've got lot's of great construction paper." If doctors fail people die, if lawyers fail people go to jail. If teachers fail, kids graduate without being able to read...oh, wait...that's happening right now! Don't compare yourselves to professions that require real accomplishment and weed out the underperformers. Any more questions?

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