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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.

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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