Many years ago, in an environmental studies class, I tried to argue in a paper that organic agriculture could, would, and should win over conventional agriculture for moral and environmental reasons. My professor didn't like that. "No," he commented, "It's all about economics."
It's Not Just About Economics
And I fear that in this case, too, I'm not going to have success in arguing that what the administration wants to do is immoral. I may not be successful, but I will try anyway. The issue of privatizing custodial and maintenance work--an idea that has been pursued over and over by AAPS administration for at least 30 years--is being presented as if it is all about economics, but it shouldn't be, and--as it happens--I don't really believe that it is all about economics.
When we look at the big picture, it's very clear that a) a small group of workers is getting the very short end of the stick and that b) it doesn't have to be that way--even to end up with the same economic results.
Right now, there are fewer than 175 custodial staff, and on their backs we are trying to save $2,000,000. That comes down to trying to save over $11,000 per employee. Bear in mind that we are not talking about the highest paid employees in the district. I think we are talking about some of the lowest-paid employees in the district. Oh, and they "get" to lose their retirement.
Of course there are alternatives. There are 1200 teachers, and only 175 custodial staff. Instead of asking teachers and administrators to take a 4% cut, AAPS could ask everybody to take a 5% cut. Would that really be so terrible? Why should custodial and maintenance workers have to take cuts that are closer to 20% of their renumeration? Would the administration like to give up their retirement? That would be a modest proposal.
It's Not Just About Prevailing Wages and Benefits
(Superintendent) Todd Roberts tried to say to me that the "prevailing wages and benefits" for custodial work are lower than what AAPS pays. Well, first of all, who negotiated those wages and benefits? It does take two to tango, and unions don't make up their own compensation packages.
Second, maybe custodial staff chose to stay with the district because of the benefits--in other words, they may have chosen a (supposedly) secure job with retirement rather than take a different job with better wages but no retirement.
Third, AAPS teachers are also at the top of the county's teacher wage scale, so I guess the "prevailing wages and benefits" for teachers are also lower. That doesn't mean that they deserve less either.
AAPS has per-pupil funding that is also higher than all of the other local districts--by quite a lot. That doesn't mean that we deserve less per-pupil funding. It might mean that other districts deserve more.
So, in sum: Nobody "deserves" less. To ask everybody to sacrifice equally--that seems like the least we could do.
There Are Other Things to Consider
I have a few other thoughts, too:
- To the extent that some people end up in custodial and maintenance work because they have relatively low literacy--perhaps because they were not taught well (for example, dyslexia not identified), perhaps because they are immigrants--do the schools actually fail them twice?
- To the extent that the people who are custodians and maintenance workers are more likely to be people of color--is this just incidental, or is the privatization discriminatory in practice?
- To the extent that money that is invested locally stays locally (see thinklocalfirst.net), and money that is not invested locally is much less likely to stay locally, why is it that (if we were to privatize) we would sign a multi-million dollar contract with a company from Illinois?
Last, but not least: Do not tell me that "everybody else is doing it." I don't care. As a parent, that does not sit well with me. There are things I don't allow my kids to do, even if everybody else is doing it.
UPDATED 4/14/10: The proposal the AAPS administration is promoting does not even try to keep wages and benefits somewhat equal, as they originally said they would. [Why? Because that wouldn't save enough money.] This staff would lose between $2 and $6 per hour; and have a doubling of health care costs; and not get paid time off. This according to David Jesse's article here.
To the school board: I'm asking you to vote no on privatization, and to insist that all employee groups share the pain equitably.
Everyone else: You can email the school board at email@example.com
You can also read my earlier posts on privatization:
Privatization History--all the times it didn't work out
Just Say No to Privatization
Retirement, Privatization Details
The Bids Are In