Idea of privatizing school maintenance services under debate
“I know we’re support staff but where would the schools be without us there to clean up?” said Robbie Jones, head custodian at Christiansburg Middle School and vice president of the Montgomery County Education Association, on Thursday.
“There are certain things that just shouldn’t be on the table,” echoed Kacie Hodges, a Blacksburg resident with children at Kipps Elementary and Blacksburg Middle schools.
School officials were quick to say that no decision is expected soon on privatization, and proposals on out-sourcing are not even due until next week.
But with memories of a grueling budget season still fresh, school board members and administrators say they plan to look at every possibility for finding savings.
The board will gather information on privatizing transportation and food services too, Chairman Wendell Jones (of no relation to Robbie Jones) said this week. School consolidation and other unpopular measures considered and rejected this year may make a return as well, he and other officials have warned.
For now, the outsourcing of custodial work is “purely a study and it’s at the very infancy stages of gathering data,” Jones said.
But, he added, “At some point, it does come down to economics and business.”
Montgomery County imposed its largest real estate tax increase in memory this year to deal with an unprecedented school construction boom – a $124 million plan to build two new high schools and convert a third into a middle school. But School Board members were left scrambling to cut $6.1 million from the school system’s operating budget. They closed the gap largely by eliminating teaching and other jobs.
Officials emerged vowing to more fully explore their options before budget decisions are made again next spring and to seek more parent and community involvement early on.
“We’ve got to engage parents,” Jones said.
Schools spokeswoman Brenda Drake wrote in an e-mail that if outsourcing proposals look feasible, they will be assigned to a committee for evaluation and an eventual recommendation to the superintendent and school board.
Robbie Jones said about 100 custodians’ jobs may ride on the outcome of the board’s deliberations.
Jones said she hopes board members will consider the intangible value of longtime custodians’ relationships with students, who may turn to custodians for guidance that they would not seek from a teacher or administrator.
Hodges said her biggest concern with outsourcing is safety. With a private company, rather than the county, in charge of staffing, “Who knows who would be in the boys room with the 13-year-olds?” she said.
But while she thinks maintenance should remain with county employees, Hodges said she is glad the school board is looking seriously at budget issues early this year.
Similarly, Kelly Pleasant, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, wrote in an e-mail Thursday that custodians are “an integral part of the educational teams in our buildings” but she understood the need to look at various budget options.
“This is gonna be another wild budget year I fear,” Pleasant wrote.
The Roanoke Times | 381-1669
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