DISD Teachers, Custodians Hold Candlelight Vigil In The Rain To Protest Job Cuts

RenaHonea.JPG
Photo by Anna Merlan
Rena Honea
Undaunted by last night's cold drizzle, around 30 Dallas ISD teachers, custodial workers and other support employees held a quiet march and candlelight vigil outside 3700 Ross Avenue. The reason? DISD's budget-cutting plan to outsource custodial services and HVAC repairs to a private company. Along with the 471 teachers who are expected to be out of work next year, between those proposed school consolidations and an increase in class size at the elementary level, that's a potential loss of around 1,100 total jobs (or, perhaps not, as explained below). And the Alliance-AFT teachers association says one bidder for that custodial contract -- which wouldn't even go before the board till late in the spring -- is Aramark, a company that contracted with DISD back in 2003 -- and who Alliance-AFT says had their contract ripped up for shoddy work.

Custodial staff, says Alliance-AFT president Rena Honea, "go far above and beyond" just cleaning the schools. "They mentor these kids," she said last night, standing alongside the line of marchers, her black umbrella aloft. "They find things for them. They're just there for them, and they take a real interest in these kids." A contract with a private company, she says, would replace those workers with "just somebody off the street, out to make a dollar, who doesn't have their best interests at heart."

Yesterday was the deadline for the bids, and district officials tell Unfair Park they're far from deciding whether or not to privatize; interim superintendent Alan King just wants to consider it as an option as the district looks to cut $38 million from the coming school year's budget. And, DISD higher-ups remind, even if an outside company comes in to run custodial services, that outside company would likely hire back most if not all of the district's custodians.

Honea says now's a good time to remind the DISD board that support staff is crucial to the success of the schools. "We've gone this route before," with privatizing custodial contracts, she said. DISD signed a $1.8-mllion contract with Aramark, which is based in Philadelphia, in July of 2003. But, Honea says, it didn't last. "In 2003, [DISD] stopped their contract with Aramark. There were inadequate supplies, people not doing their jobs, and some building not being cleaned. In addition, there was an EEOC anti-discrimination lawsuit that lost a lot of money... It shouldn't have happened, and we're asking them not to make the same mistake again."

Estella Hernandez and Juan Hernandez (no relation to one another), were two custodial workers who showed up to the march. Both say they have been with DISD for over a decade. The private companies, Estella said, shaking her head, "just take money and leave problems."

Asked what he would do if he lost his job, Juan -- who has worked for the district for 16 years, nine at the same school -- simply shook his head. "I don't know," he said simply. "I have no idea."

Money has to be saved, Honea acknowledged. "But not on the backs of the students and employees who take care of these kids and schools."

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Litlebee18
Litlebee18

They said they would likely be hired back. No guarantee. I understand the worry. If its not in writing then I wouldn't count on it.

Michael in LH
Michael in LH

Typical DISD, didn't get it right the first time they tried it. They won't get it right this time either. Whatever deal they sign will end up costing more in lawsuits and major outlays because regular maintenance won't be performed.

Phelps
Phelps

Custodial staff, says Alliance-AFT president Rena Honea, "go far above and beyond" just cleaning the schools. "They mentor these kids," she said last night, standing alongside the line of marchers, her black umbrella aloft. "They find things for them. They're just there for them, and they take a real interest in these kids." A contract with a private company, she says, would replace those workers with "just somebody off the street, out to make a dollar, who doesn't have their best interests at heart."

Wow.  That is some of the most condescending shit I have ever heard.

I guess all the janitors they have now magically sprouted from the School-Soul hidden in the broiler room and work for leftover chocolate milk and unsold fund raiser candy.  Because, you know, it's not like they were ever somebody off the street out to make a dollar.

Jesus.  If this is how everyone in the school system thinks, no wonder Johnny can't read.

disd is good in my hood
disd is good in my hood

you make a valid point.  however, at my kids school it is not uncommon for the custodial staff to volunteer to work special events in the evenings and/or weekends when there is no budget to pay for custodial services.  no way that happens with third-party hires.

Phelps
Phelps

How do you figure?  First, the company is going to end up hiring back virtually all of the same people.  All that is changing at the bottom is where they get their paycheck from.  The same people who volunteered before are going to volunteer again.

Second, how do people stop being people just because they have one employer over another?  Seriously?  How did this idea come about that someone is a bad person simply because they work for a particular company?

They're people who are taking jobs as a janitor for a school.  The people who take that job are going to be less educated people who still believe in there being honor and a sense of well being in manual labor and service.  It doesn't matter if they are working for a third party.  They don't suddenly become fat cats twirling their handlebar mustaches in anticipation of some scheme to enrich themselves at the expense of The Children.  Either way, they are a school janitor.

disd is good in my hood
disd is good in my hood

they absolutely are still human and this has nothing to do with being good or bad people.  but when pay and benefits are cut (I think this is the trend) I think it is reasonable to think that motivation to give back through volunteering will also take a hit.  when I have worked as a third party contractor, I know that I never really felt part of the team and I know thats how other people I know who do contract work feel too.

Michael MacNaughton
Michael MacNaughton

In most outsourcing situations I am familiar with the company will initially offer positions to existing employees but often times at a lower hourly rate.  DISD compensates its custodial forces at a higher rate than other districts (DISD just had a board briefing on the subject) and probably at higher rates than other custodial services. People are expensive.  The outsourcing company will find that it is advantageous to pay the lowest rates possible with the smallest expenditure in equipment and supplies. That does not mean that current employees, in this job market, won't make the move. 

I understand that Lewisville ISD successfully outsourced custodial services but that district is 2/3 smaller than DISD.  One company may have a great deal of trouble servicing the 227 schools and administration buildings.  DISD does not manage anything very well and having multiple custodial companies doing work in the district could be a nightmare for all involved.  

As to children's safety, a requirement to thoroughly vet the applicants at any outsourcing agency is a necessity but begs the question, when was the last time DISD's custodial workers were run through a background check? 

Those custodians who (out of love for the kids and their school) work after-hours and perhaps off the clock to avoid overtime are a potential huge lawsuit waiting to happen.

Get out the twenty-foot poles to touch this mess.

East Dallasite
East Dallasite

You get what you pay for. There's a reason customer service sucks at Wal-Mart and fast food joints - pay people minimum wage with no benefits and the results speak for themselves.

Phelps
Phelps

Funny, I get better customer service at WalMart and McDonalds than I tend to get a boutique type places.

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