DeKalb school workers could lose jobs to outsourcing

December 30, 2010 at 9:48 am Leave a comment

By Megan Matteucci
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

More than 700 DeKalb County school workers could lose their jobs to outsourcing.

The school system is considering privatizing custodians and maintenance jobs, including grounds-keeping, painting, window glazing, heating and air-conditioning, equipment repair and pest control.

“The objective is not to eliminate employees, but to save taxpayer dollars,” DeKalb schools spokesman Jeff Dickerson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday.

School officials said the outsourcing is still a proposal and the amount of potential savings was not available this week.

However, the proposal could mean layoffs. Dickerson said about 700 jobs would be impacted. Board chairman Tom Bowen said the proposal impacts 900 jobs – 600 custodians and 350 at the school service center.

Dickerson said the district “strongly encourages vendors to give preference to existing employees,” and it is too early to determine who would retain employment.

That’s not enough for the Organization of DeKalb Educators, which represents about 4,700 school employees.

“It’s a huge concern for us,” said David Schutten, the union’s president. “People in the schools are very upset that privatizing custodians will take away the family feel in schools.”

Outsourcing is one of several suggestions that came up earlier this year as part of budget cuts. Facing an estimated $50 million shortfall in next year’s budget, the proposal is back on the table.

Last week, the school system received several bids in response to Requests For Proposals advertised for custodians and maintenance positions. School staff are now reviewing those bids to determine if the move is cost-effective and will make a recommendation to the board over the next two months.

“This is purely an investigation of a possible cost-savings measure. If it turns out that it does not materially benefit the district, it won’t be pursued,” Bowen told the AJC. “It is a good idea to understand what other school districts across the country have done to cut costs in the area of support services.”

Schutten said he too needs more information. He plans to ask questions about employee pay, benefits, seniority and job security at Monday’s school board meeting. Other school employees have suggested a protest.

“Over the long haul, privatization will hurt us far too much,” Schutten said. “They think privatization will save money, but that’s not necessarily true.”

Last week, more than 100 employees attended an organization meeting to express concerns about the proposal, Schutten said.

Earlier this year, DeKalb cut about 250 jobs as part of budget cuts, including nine custodians and 19 maintenance workers. DeKalb schools have already outsourced its communications department to Dickerson and Cohn & Wolfe.

The Atlanta Public Schools has touted savings by using both contract workers and school employees for food services, maintenance, custodians, security and construction. In May, APS officials told the AJC that a contract with Sodexo-Jackmont, which operates 70 percent of the district’s food services, resulted in a $1.3 million surplus last year. Prior to outsourcing, APS’ food services department operated at a deficit.

Earlier this year, Cobb schools considered outsourcing transportation, but killed the idea after complaints.

For years, Fulton County schools have outsourced some of their custodians to cut costs, school officials said.

DeKalb officials insist they are not looking to outsource cafeteria workers or bus drivers.

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