By Julia Grippe
Holt Journal staff writer
HOLT – Holt residents voiced concerns about the possibility of outsourcing custodial services in Holt schools at the Holt Public School Board meeting March 12.
Almost every seat was filled with some people in the back holding picket signs that opposed the privatization proposal.
Deputy superintendent of the Holt School District, W. Scott Szpara, said the intermediate school district proposed privatizing custodial services.
Szpara said the next contract year begins June 30 and there are provisions to renegotiate wages.
Szpara said, “We’d like to reach a contract as soon as possible.”
“There’s a market for custodial services. We talked about how we could make our custodians in line with the market,” said Szpara.
“We’ve identified a budget shortfall and we are trying to cut costs. We are still trying to make a contract with our custodians,” said Szpara. “If we subcontracted, we could save close to $1 million.”
“We are looking to make cuts away from the classroom that have the least impact on students,” said Szpara. “For example, we have reading programs that we don’t want to cut.”
Mike Parker, secretary and treasurer of Teamsters Local 580, represented the Holt custodians. Parker said privatizing custodial services makes the whole environment less safe.
John Taylor, grounds department custodian for the Holt School District said, “We have already been fingerprinted, drug tested and had background checks.”
Parker said, “The privatized custodians would have less pay, no pension and rotten health care benefits.”
Most of the current custodians have grown up in Holt, went to Holt schools, have children currently enrolled in the school district or all of the above, said Parker.
“There is a legend here,” said Teamsters Local 580 representative, Doug Withey.
When asked about what would happen to Taylor if Holt schools decided to privatize, he said, “I have a student that has graduated and another one about to graduate.” Taylor said he’s going to have to take out loans for college.
“These are people’s lives that are at stake,” said Parker.
“We do extra work without pay,” said Taylor.
For example, Taylor said he made sure the practice fields were painted and ready for students to practice on even when his 40 hours were up.
“Why should the kids have to suffer?” said Taylor.
Many custodians, like Taylor, passionately opposed privatization. Most said they have invested a lot into the public schools and care about keeping them safe and doing the best job they can.
“Those people that stood up, I know them personally and I like them,” said Szpara, referring to the board meeting.
Szpara said, “We realize it’s not just a cost issue, we have long-term relationships here.”
Parker said he hopes the rest of the community comes out and sees how much the custodial staff does for the community.
“We think budget cuts are difficult decisions and we seek community input,” said Szpara.