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Rochester Will Move Forward With Privatization of Bus Drivers, Custodians

The district is facing a budget shortfall and this is one potential way to save money.

would save $11.7 million over three years by contracting with two companies to manage bus drivers, custodians and some grounds workers, Board of Education members learned this week.

In an era of budget worries — Rochester is facing a $10.8 million deficit next year — this bottom line spurred board members to ask district leaders to move forward with the contracts.

"I believe this is our fiscal responsibility — it's what we were elected for," said Board President Jennifer Berwick. "I do not think we can not move forward with this."

A formal vote is expected at the board's April 16 meeting, though all board members present (Chuck Coutteau was absent) indicated their support for privatizing the services.

Here's a look at how the contracts would work.

The transportation department

The privatization of the district's transportation department would cover the entire department: 150 positions, including drivers, aides, dispatchers and secretaries.

The district received bids from four firms. An interview team, which consisted of two school board members and administrators, selected Durham School Services as the potential contracted company for transportation services. Durham serves 350 school districts in 30 states and also has a Canadian component; Birmingham Public Schools' transportation department is managed by Durham.

Durham's proposed three-year contract would save the district $4.7 million over three years.

Durham would likely hire 85 percent to 90 percent of the current RCS drivers, said Dan Romzek, assistant superintendent of businesses.

Drivers would likely be offered an hourly wage increase, though there would be increases in healthcare costs and the loss of other benefits, such as vacation and sick days.

The custodians

The privatization of the district's custodians would cover about 100 employees: all custodians and the three high school grounds positions.

The district received bids from six firms. The interview team selected GCA Education Services as the potential contracted company for these services.

The company employs 30,000 people in 45 states; they manage custodians in several area school districts, including Birmingham and Royal Oak.

GCA's proposed three-year contract would save the district $7 million over three years.

The interview team made a surprise visit to five schools under contract with GCA. They found the buildings "very clean and well maintained," according to a report given by Romzek and John Stoner, director of operations. It's not known how many current RCS employees would be hired by GCA; their wage and benefit packages were said to be "competitive."

The audience reacts

Andrew Jaracz is a bus driver for the district. He spoke to the board, wearing a poster board sign that listed the multitude of roles a bus driver plays.

"We are the eyes and ears of Rochester," Jaracz said. "Say 'no' to privatization; it's not the answer."

He mentioned the relationship the drivers have built with the students in the district. "Do you have in mind a private company you trust to haul this cargo?"

He was among about 20 employees of the custodian, grounds and transportation department who pleaded with board members to reconsider the privatization of their services.

Those who spoke out cited concerns about childrens' safety, about hiring non-Michigan-based companies and about, in general, taking a division of the school district out of the school district's control.

Board members and Superintendent Fred Clarke said they sympathized with those who spoke at the meeting.

"As you see, this evening Rochester Community Schools is faced with a very difficult time," said Clarke. Three years ago, the district was faced with a similar situation and was able to hold off on privatizing these services thanks to the "generous sacrifices" of the employees, Clarke said.

"This is different. Something's gotta give. We are left with choices and unfortunately none of the choices are good. Unfortunately we can't control the costs."

In the end, Clarke said, it comes down to keeping the budget cuts as far away from the instructional programs as possible.

Board members speak

Board member Beth Talbert agreed with Clarke in praising the transportation and custodial employees for their sacrifices in the past.

"You responded with grace and professionalism that is unprecedented in my professional career," she said.

But Talbert said she looked at all of the options for cutbacks in the district — from teachers and media specialists to some athletics and building budgets — and concluded she wanted to make the decisions that have the least impact on classroom learning.

Board member Gerald Moore said the decision before the board was no different than a household budget. If you have to make budget cuts at home, you take one less trip Up North or you cut your satellite or cable provider, Moore said.

"Considering the cost-savings of this, it would be irresponsible to not move forward," he said.

Board member Lisa Nowak said the district has few good choices left when considering budget cuts.

"We've cut all the fluff," Nowak said. "The choices before us are all difficult. We are required by law to balance a budget."

Board member Jane Pierobon said Rochester "just doesn't have money to pay for everything we'd like to." Board member Pat Piskulich called the decision "unpleasant" and "horrible."

"This is the world we live in. This is not going to go away until the economy turns around," he said.

Right now, there are several services in the district that are contracted with private companies. They include the food service department, the subsitute teacher management program, the para-educator program and other administrative positions.

dk April 02, 2012 at 10:09 PM
The Rochester School board members leading the privatization parade are those that want to run a public school like a business instead of the local unit of government that it is. However, it the radical Republicans in Lansing that are pushing privatization legislation; and Tom McMillin is the leader of that parade. He takes his marching orders from ALEC, (http://www.dailykos.com/blog/Exposing%20ALEC and http://therochestercitizen.com/who-does-representative-tom-mcmillin-work-for-you-or-big-corporate-intere-p441-1.htm) and he gets his campaign money from lobbyists in Grand Rapids who support charter schools (http://mirsnews.com/lob_bio.php?cid=581 and http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/Tom_McMillin). McMillin is an embarassment to this community and hell bent on his ideological agenda no matter how many of our kids he hurts. This November, we finally have a real community oriented person running against McMillin. Her name is Joanna VanRaaphorst, and her website is here. http://www.joannaforrochester.com/ She is from Rochester and for Rochester, a mom, business woman, and school supporter. Please check out Joanna's website and donate your time and money to Joanna so we can help her restore funding to our kids.
Peter Adair April 03, 2012 at 01:07 PM
Home-school your children and I bet all of this will not be a problem!
erin hill April 21, 2012 at 09:09 PM
Scot , great job posting those comments by the employees of Durham and GCA. When these three years are up and Durham has replaced just 10% of your bus fleet with their buses for a cost of $75.00 a run and there are three runs a day folks. Durham will have full control of all the chips in the game. See they start moving out the RCS fleet as soon as they can and replace with there buses to start to take control of the fleet and the board. There is no way the district will be able to afford to take back the transpotation in house because they will not have the money to buy back the buses that were replaced by Durham. And they wont be able to send out new bids because Durham will need a hefty payoff to get out . And at the end of the tree years get ready for your school board to tell you that in order to keep busing they are gonna give durham an increase of 15% or higher to keep the busing going, Because that's what they do to their customers . Ya know "helping the district make sure that all the monies make it into the classroom" What a joke! Plus when they do a in district field trip which would take maybe 15mins to do they will charge the district a two hr min of $66.00 . And that price is charged even if they cancel the field trip. Oh and by the way that just cost the district over $250,000.00 with the current amount trips that the transportation department does now. So ad that to the profit and subtract it from the "projected savings" That durham is going to save
erin hill April 21, 2012 at 09:13 PM
For those of you that do not know about the transparency report on the RCS website you need to go there and click on it . It might open some eyes .
Pamela April 22, 2012 at 02:55 AM
well, I just found out they have a group of Administator's in the private sector that are less than 1/2 the cost of the ones in charge now, with no benefits, so NOW IT IS THEIR TURN TO BE ON THE STREETs. COME ON PARENTS VOTE IT IN

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