By Charles Sercombe
Last week the Hamtramck School Board split on a decision to privatize the work of custodians and bus drivers.
But early this week there appeared to be a change of mind for one board member that could mean those jobs will be contracted out.
Boardmember Magdalena Srodek said she requested the board to revisit the proposals even though she voted to keep the jobs in the district.
Srodek told The Review that she purposely voted against privatizing the jobs so she could gain time to further review the issue. She had missed the December Board meeting when a pitch was made by companies to take over the services.
The Board held a special meeting on Thursday, the day The Review went to press.
It appears Srodek was willing to vote to privatize.
“These companies are willing to give priority to our district employees,” Srodek told The Review prior to Thursday’s special meeting.
Superintendent Tom Niczay had recommended privatizing the jobs as well as that of security personnel. The Board agreed to contract out security jobs, but were tied, 3-3, over the other jobs.
Newly-appointed Boardmember Evan Major abstained in the vote, saying he had no background knowledge of the issue. He had been appointed to the Board to fill a vacancy just the night before the regular Board meeting.
On Wednesday, Major said he was still gathering background information on the proposals. Major conceded that if the district is taken over by the state “all the jobs will be privatized.”
Those voting in favor of privatizing were Titus Walters, Yvonne Myrick and Eric Burkman, and those voting against were Srodek and Hedy and Al Shulgon.
Niczay said the district will save about $600,000 a year by contracting out the work of custodians, bus drivers and security. The district is facing a $3.7 million budget deficit, and must come up with a deficit reduction plan and stick to it to avoid being taken over by the state.
Niczay added that contracting out the jobs of bus drivers will result in further savings because the district won’t have to pay for insurance or continue purchasing new busses to replace current ones.
Al Shulgon said he is against contracting out the jobs because other budget cuts haven’t been considered yet, such as salary cuts to administrators and secretaries.
“I’d like to see everybody step up,” Shulgon said.
Niczay said he is still seeking cuts from all employees, including teachers. Niczay has voluntarily taken a 10 percent pay cut. He added that the district also laid off two teachers last week.
There are 18 full-time custodians and two full-time bus drivers and 11 part-time drivers.
Two years ago the custodians agreed to a 25 percent pay cut. The average custodian was making about $44,000 a year with benefits and a pension. Even with their salary concessions, Niczay said “we can’t afford it.”
Niczay said that the companies that proposed to take over the services promised to give school employees a chance to fill their old jobs. For the part-time buys drivers, Niczay said, they would be offered full-time jobs.
“It’s a win-win,” Niczay said.
Custodian Mark Olko, who is a 15-year employee, said losing his job will hurt twice as much. His wife is also a custodian with the district.
“I would be losing two paychecks,” he said.
As for the re-vote on the issue, he called it a “farce.”
“We’re talking about my livelihood,” he said.
UPDATE: On Thursday, the School Board voted to privatize the jobs of custodians and bus drivers. Voting against contracting out the work of custodians were Hedy and Al Shulgon and Evan Major. In the vote to privatize the jobs of bus drivers, only Al Shulgon voted in opposition.
(Editor’s note: This online version of the story has been edited from the print version. In the print version it was said that contracting out the jobs of custodians and bus drivers would save the district $600,000. That savings estimate should have included the jobs of security personnel as well.)