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Posted on Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 6:07 a.m.

Ann Arbor school board agrees to contract with custodial workers that avoids privatization

By David Jesse

The Ann Arbor school district won’t privatize its custodial and maintenance operations after current employees agreed to take wage cuts in exchange for keeping their jobs.

Under the terms of the agreement, passed by the Ann Arbor school board Wednesday night, workers will take an 8 percent pay cut for the next school year, lose vacation days and see changes in their health benefits.

The union has also passed the tentative agreement, district officials said.


The Ann Arbor school district's custodians and maintenance workers have been protesting privatization for weeks.

Melanie Maxwell | For

The district took bids from multiple companies for custodial and maintenance services to replace the district employees. But administrators said all along they would work with the current employees' union to match savings promised by the private companies.

The district will save about $1,800,000 under the terms of the agreement, said Dave Comsa, the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources and legal services.

The agreement calls for 8 percent wage cuts for most of the employees next school year. The district’s top-paid custodial workers would also lose an additional 46 cents per hour in wages.

The two-year agreement calls for a wage and benefit re-opener and formula based on “if the non-designated fund balance as determined by the district’s independent auditors is completed and reported to the board to reflect an increase in excess of 20 percent of the budget and if the official fall 2011-12 student count as verified by the (Washtenaw Intermediate School District) audit reflects an increase in the student count from the official student count from the 2010-11 school year (by) 100 students, the parties will sit down to negotiate a salary increase.”

The agreement also calls for cuts in vacation time. Those employees who currently get four or five weeks vacation would now get three weeks of vacation. Those who get two or three weeks of vacation would now to get two weeks of vacation.

In addition, each employee would pay $1,000 a year for the basic insurance plan offered by the district, plus any additional cost if an employee wants a higher level of coverage. Employees currently pay up to $600 for their coverage, district administrators said.

Board members said they were pleased with the agreement and the ability to keep the employees.

“When this community comes together and does a win-win, I’m proud of us,” said board Trustee Irene Patalan.

David Jesse covers K-12 education for He can be reached at or at 734-623-2534.


Andrew Thomas

Sun, May 2, 2010 : 4:25 p.m.

@ AMOC: It is a commonly-held misconception that State property taxes contribute the lion's share of funding for public education funding. In fact, the sales tax accounts for over twice as much funding as property tax. Here are the sources of revenue for the School Aid Fund: State Sales Tax: $4,282 Million State Education Property Tax: $1,875 M State Income Tax: $1,777 M Michigan Business Tax: $ 727 M Lottery Transfer: $ 708 M Tobacco Taxes: $ 384 M Use Tax: $ 381 M Real Estate Transfer Tax: $ 127 M All Other: $ 197 M Total: $10,458 M (Source: January 2010 Revenue Estimating Conference, House Financial Agency) Sales tax accounts for about 41% of the School Aid Fund, while property tax accounts for about 18%. Sales tax revenues have fallen sharply over the past two years, much more so than property taxes (which have a built-in "regulator" to prevent sharp swings, as you correctly state). I do not agree with your assessment that sales tax is inelastic because it is generated from the sale of necessities. In Michigan, food items are not subject to sales tax, nor are such necessities as rent, utilities or medical care. I would guess that the decline in sales tax revnue is closely tied to the slow-down in sales of big-ticket items, such as cars, appliances, etc. But I admit, this is a guess, I do not have stats to back this up.

Andrew Thomas

Sun, May 2, 2010 : 3:50 p.m.

@ LB: Administrative positions have taken a 4% decrease, Superintendent Roberts has taken an 8% decrease.


Sun, May 2, 2010 : 9:52 a.m.

Here we go again, always the low man on the totem pole that takes the biggest hit. Yet still no give backs by the administration. Who of course are the highest paid. They'll probably get a raise. Lets see them all follow by example


Sun, May 2, 2010 : 8:21 a.m.

@Andrew Thomas - You said "Right now, school funding is basically driven by sales tax revenue, which is very sensitive to economic conditions." Sir, you are mistaken or misled. School funding in Michigan is driven by a combination of property tax and sales tax. The property tax was capped, to make it's growth lag somewhat in good times and to allow a gradual deceleration of growth in school funding in less good times. Nobody then foresaw an entire decade of very bad times such as Michigan has seen this past decade. After property tax, collections of which had ever gone down only in isolated areas of serious urban decay, the sales tax is much more inelastic, or "sticky" in the revenue it raises than is an income tax. Each family needs to buy some items pretty much all the time no matter what happens to their income. It is this argument which has lead our Federal government to "support consumption which maintains employment" by extending unemployment benefits to previously unheard-of duration. But we have experienced the previously unheard-of, with more reductions likely to come. Both property tax revenues to most units of local government and sales tax revenues have fallen and will fall further. The population has fallen and will likely fall further in our region. Government employees at all levels will need to show the kind of cooperation and flexibility that the Ann Arbor custodians just have or their employing units of government will be bankrupt.


Fri, Apr 30, 2010 : 7:48 a.m.

The reality of all this is that again the lowest paid employees are taking the biggest hit. 8% to a person making $10 an hour is HUGE compared to a person making $100,000 a year. The cuts should be made on a sliding scale based on income and ALL staff should have mandatory cuts. What other Administrators (besides Todd Roberts)are taking cuts? Custodial/maintenance, bus drivers, child care- after 8% we won't be able to pay for our medications ($30.00 co-pays),rent etc. Admin? well, they might be late making a car payment on their Mercedes or Volvo!

Jack Panitch

Fri, Apr 30, 2010 : 7:19 a.m.

greymom: No question: you made a huge contribution to help get us all through this mess. On behalf of my family, I thank you. Another thing I witnessed Wednesday night was the reaction of the trustees, who made it clear that your sacrifice would be remembered in two years' time.


Fri, Apr 30, 2010 : 6:11 a.m.

The cuts that AFSCME took was between 8-15%, folks that have a great number of years took the biggest hit. Does it stink yes but I have been here twenty years and even though this is a big hit, it would have been so bad for the students and the District to outsource. We took the hit not only to save our jobs but also because we care about our kids, they need not go through so much change, as some have said to me- I know I can always go to the custodian if I need anything. We have taken and given up for over the past 8 years or so and we continue to be hit hard by the District, but we just keep hanging in there. I hope all can just keep positive thoughts for Ann Arbor to get things turned around starting right down at Balas. As far as the cuts for custodial we new hires at poverty level and all skilled trade folks several dollars under paid. Custodians with ten years or more took between 1.50-2.00 an hour pay cut. We pay 460. dollars more toward our insurance. I must say the District got nearly 2 million out of 173 folks- trust me we gave up!!!

Jack Panitch

Fri, Apr 30, 2010 : 12:51 a.m.

Snarf -- I just snorted my coffee! Your caricature of my work is so economical, yet so humorous. I'm going to have to reprint the papers I was working on.

Snarf Oscar Boondoggle

Fri, Apr 30, 2010 : 12:37 a.m.

let;s make peace heare ppl... no blood was shead! aataxpayer: Thank you custodians for your flexibility! Thank you administration for reaching a solution that reflects community values. Thank you school board for your leadership on this issue. Given current economic conditions, this is an excellent outcome ru4serious: Nice job by both sides, not to say it's a great contract for the custodians,but great job getting together and working something out. jackiel: I feel sorry for these employees. How are they going to survive? Does anyone know what this works out to as their base hourly wage? [ed: 92% is is a win compared to 0%, or are yo0u jsut trolling?] aataxpayer: The custodians have set the standard for facing economic reality, even though it really hurts economically. The custodians have earned my respect and I will remember this for a long time [ed: as will i, and wehen the economy get;s the gummint off of it;s neck, i will support (/gasp!) restoring the pay levels, it;s only the fairness 'thang'.) jack panitch: It certainly remains our democratic duty to voice informed opinions respectfully. Nobody died, nobody got hurt, were not at war. However, the community is trying to rebuild. Please keep that in mind and figure out where you can best contribute. [ed: it takes a village.... etc.]

Jack Panitch

Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 11:44 p.m.

ADTB -- Think of your own tolerance for the views of others as expressed in your description of the PTO Council's talking points. Moreover, there may be valid alternative views regarding tenure: And do you really know me well enough to say that I haven't been the target of bigotry? We're none of us perfect.

Andrew Thomas

Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 11:22 p.m.

@ Basic Bob, You raise some very valid questions, which deserve answers. 1. You are correct, if we knew TODAY exactly what our allocation would be for next FY, this would not prevent the pink slips. Our point is, the more lead time we have to plan, the better we will be able to make the necessary adjustments. What really kills the districts (not just Ann Arbor) is when the funding cuts come mid-year. 2. No, we aren't asking for a blank check. (I am speaking for myself now, not for the PTO Council) What I would like to see is an effort to cost out what a high quality district would include (in terms of student-teacher ratio, art and music provided for, college prep curriculum and funding to accommodate programs for struggling students) and a pay scale for teachers and other employees that will attract and retain high-quality individuals. Admitedly, this will be hard to develop, but I'd like to see someone take a crack at it. 3. When we speak of a stable funding model, we mean one which is less susceptible to the ups and downs of the state economy. Right now, school funding is basically driven by sales tax revenue, which is very sensitive to economic conditions. You are correct that ONE model would be to give the same amount per student to each district, but as you say, this is just one model. The question of equity between districts is very thorny, and certainly worth debating, but it is separate from the goal of being stable and sustainable. 4. Well, there will always be competition among various state programs. However, I would make the following argument in favor of putting education first: You can defer road maintenance for a year or two (or even longer) without inflicting lasting damage to the State (to the extent that bad roads tear up our cars, it may even help the auto industry by forcing people to buy new cars -- okay, that's a joke). But when you cut education, you cause harm to an entire cohort of students, harm that will be very difficult, if not impossible, to make up when the economy recovers in three or five or however many years. Prisons are a bad investment. The best you can say about them is that they deal with an end product of a disfunctional social system. Maybe a little more emphasis on providing quality education for everyone would lead to individuals with more marketable skills, reduce crime, and thus reduce the need for prisons. So yes, I think a very persuasive case can be made for putting schools first. There, see? It is possible to have a civil conversation about these issues. And thank you for giving me your name. (If you'd like to take me up on the lunch offer I made to "Voice of Reason", the offer still holds -- you can find my contact information at the AAPS webside under the BOE candidates.

Anonymous Due to Bigotry

Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 11:06 p.m.

@"Jack Panitch": The bigotry in this town is directed at me, not you. Most of the pro-union, left-wing, religiously and uncritically "environmentalist", statists in this town are completely intolerant of any opinion other than their own which meets the definition you quote for bigotry. I'm much more tolerant than they are. In this town, having any view other than rabid leftism will get you treated like a black guy at a KKK rally. That's why I'm anonymous. Diversity is great as long as it's superficial and not diversity of opinion huh? I really don't see what needs to be discussed regarding ending tenure for k12 teachers. So far nobody has even suggested a valid reason why k12 tenure makes any sense except for making sure that incompetent teachers can keep their jobs. In every other industry it makes sense to be able to fire people who aren't performing adequately. Why make an exception for teachers?

Basic Bob

Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 10:26 p.m.

@Andrew Thomas, 1. Guarantee school funding levels are set prior to the start of the school fiscal year. - This requires that the funding level is set in stone before the end of June. This still does not avoid the layoff notices in April for those who may be affected if the funding level is unknown. 2. Support schools at a level that provides for a quality education based on program cost, not current dollars available. - Unfortunately this sounds like a blank check. How is the State of Michigan going to come up with the money if program costs increase and current dollars are not available? 3. Develop a stable, sustainable funding model for school funding. - One model would be to give all schools the same money for each student. Since this would be a huge hit to Ann Arbor, I'm guessing that's not your goal. 4. Prioritize education funding as the top state priority against other funding needs. - 100% agree! As long as they fix the roads. And we still need a few prisons. And lower tuition at the state universities. So, maybe not exactly 100%. -- Robert 'Basic Bob' Jones

Jack Panitch

Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 9:25 p.m.

ADTB -- I'm wrestling with the "bigotry" concept here. I looked the word up in the dictionary and found the following definition: stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one's own. Do you see where I'm headed with this? I'm headed right to the bunker underneath the arch. Would you like to sit down with folks from the PTO Counsel and seriously discuss your views and listen to theirs, and maybe anything important you have to say can be added to the mix?


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 7:41 p.m.

adameichner, I am an at will employee. If my employer can find a better, more talented and cost efficient person he should fire me and hire him.

Anonymous Due to Bigotry

Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 6:50 p.m.

@Andrew Thomas Fluffy goals like that aren't going to cut it. They're practically meaningless and read more like a mission statement than anything materially useful. Hard policy changes are needed like ending tenure for teachers so that incompetent teachers can be fired and everything else that A Voice of Reason said.

Andrew Thomas

Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 5:34 p.m.

@ Voice of Reason "Parents should be outraged what our PTO Council is up to these days." I assume you are referring to the PTO Council advocacy efforts that were spelled out at last night's BOE meeting. What we are seeking is the following: 1. Guarannee school funding levels are set prior to the start of the school fiscal year. 2. Support schools at a level that provides for a quality education based on program cost, not current dollars available. 3. Develop a stable, sustainable funding model for school funding. 4. Prioritize education funding as the top state priority against other funding needs. I'm not sure why parents should be outraged that PTO Council supports these goals. If I knew your name, I would invite you out to lunch (on my dime) and ask you why you think mid-year budget cuts are a good idea, why funding should not be based on program need, why funding for education should rise and fall with the economy, and why education should be the third or fourth priority for our state, rather than first. But, as you say, "Thank God for anonymity."


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 4:56 p.m.

Braggslaw, I don't want to burst your bubble, but people with a basic ability to learn can probably do your job too. Only skilled trades, plumbers, electricians, doctors, really require any special training. Careful how you bifurcate who "adds value" and who doesn't. No lights, no school. The maintenance is integral to the functioning of the system. You seem to have put a bit too much store in the arrogant dreams your professors sold you.

Anonymous Due to Bigotry

Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 4:31 p.m.

@'A Voice of Reason': I agree with you 100%.


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 3:41 p.m.

braggslaw, You would probably be the first to complain if your children were not offered clean if not the cleanest schools around!! Yes, anybody can clean toilets, but these custodians are not making much money in comparison to other Washtenaw County districts anyway. Since you don't want any of your tax $$ going to employ them, maybe you should volunteer to clean for a day!...What, didn't think so!


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 3:20 p.m.

a2grateful, We simply have differing opinions on what a value added activity is. The purpose of the schools is to educate not to employ people to clean the schools. I am sure the janitorial staff is hardworking but that does not change the fact that anyone with basic skills can be hired to clean floors, toilets and walls. I want my tax money spent on educating kids.

Thinkin' it Over

Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 2:48 p.m.

Public employees pay taxes on the salaries that are paid by their own taxes. They purchase goods and services that support the independent businesses of other members of the community, while providing services the community wants, needs, and demands. Most of the jobs are thankless, misunderstood, and are frequently ridiculed. Why anyone would want to continue to perform these services in this hostile neck of the woods is mystifying. I hope that once they all move on to other careers where they might experience respect and economic success, there will be others willing to serve in Michigan, a place they will be despised and belittled while paying taxes on the salaries that are provided by their own taxes.


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 12:52 p.m.

Wow! I didn't realize the hit these people were taking. They wanted the bus drivers and monitors to take a zero zero 10% pay cut after the third year. Ouch. I do agree about the teacher unions. If organized well? They will go after what attacks them. Now they are looking at county wide consolidation busing which I can't see how they can cut down on empty bus travel. Ann Arbor is so huge how can it? This will be interesting to see in the fall. Boggles the mind.

Jack Panitch

Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 11:55 a.m.

For those of you unfamiliar with the movie, "Witness," rent it and watch it. Pay special attention to the scene where the community comes together with hand tools, horses and sweat to raise a barn to give a young married couple their start in life. Your community is getting together to restructure from the devastation caused by the economy. It's all about giving public school students a fighting chance: the same chance our parents promised and delivered to us. I witnessed part of that barn being built last night at approximately 11:45 p.m. when weary trustees approved the tentative agreement the District and AFSCME just hammered out. We can all point fingers. I can point a finger at my neighbor for not supporting the millage. My neighbor can point a finger at the AAEA for being too greedy. The AAEA can point a finger at Arne Duncan or whomever. And then nothing gets rebuilt. It certainly remains our democratic duty to voice informed opinions respectfully. Nobody died, nobody got hurt, were not at war. However, the community is trying to rebuild. Please keep that in mind and figure out where you can best contribute. Men of integrity, by their very existence, rekindle the belief that as a people we can live above the level of moral squalor. We need that belief; a cynical community is a corrupt community. John W. Gardner, Secretary of Health Education and Welfare to President John F. Kennedy


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 11:52 a.m.

@a2grateful I like your post. But if giving up wages and benefits is heroic, they didn't just become heroes. They've been doing that for years now. So have bus drivers. The District has banked on our concessions for more than a decade. I don't see reducing living standards as heroic leadership. It's short-sighted, and it ignores the roots of the problem. Quality education must include quality jobs for faculty and staff.

A Voice of Reason

Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 10:50 a.m.

Thank you custodians for doing your part. I guess the threat of privatization works. Can we privatize the teachers? Here is a few thoughts for Brit: Brit, Since AAPS pays half of your salary and I hope you are not responding to comments on taxpayer time. I will respect your rhetoric that you are not merely a pawn of the MEA if I see following in the 2010-2011 contracts and yes, you have the power to re-open the contract (Saline union rep said it was against MEA policygive us a break). 1. Bid out BCBSM health insurance instead contracting with MESSA (very unethical to purchase insurance from a union who has a vesting interest and uses the profits (estimated $1200 per teacher) to pay you to lobby on behalf of the teachers. Brit, this is your chance to show your independence and credibility. 2.Get rid of tenure-for all teachersnothing should protect ineffective teachers. 3.No more pay for degrees only pay for merit (and not the MEAP-real assessments). Advance degrees to not guarantee a more effective teacher. 4.40% appointment teachers should not get benefits100% employment only! 5.Teachers should pay 30% of health care costs 6. A 3 month plan for fixing underachieving schools and pay teachers in these schools if they turn them around! 7.1 year plan for removing ineffective teachers. Until you are willing to stop protecting ineffective teachers, the union will always be criticized. Parent evaluation for teachers should be by all parents. Surveys by the district are not at all scientific and not valid in any way and the fact they are used in decision making is scary. Also, our achievement is not so great. Check of,1607,7-140-22709---,00.html Only ~ 60% of Huron and Pioneer grads are college readyscary. We know what happens to parents or people who go against the teachers unionthey destroy themlook at elected officials that disagreeJennifer Granholm paid dearly! Thank god for anonymity-maybe the other side will get out. Also, love to see that PTO Council picket the MEA offices asking for 0% increases health insurance vs. your agenda. Parents should be outraged what our PTO Council is up to these days. In summary of your request to work with the AAPS on committees, ---Only yes men should apply!


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 10:39 a.m.

Forcing public employees to compete with the private sector is a great way to help reduce government spending, balance the budget and ultimately reduce taxes. I am a City employee and can see tremendous savings in the millions of dollars if most City departments would be forced to compete with the private sector. Without competition, even the most diligent and concerned city supervisors become complacent and spend money wastefully.


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 9:11 a.m.

Seriously, an 8% wage cut when many of the custodians don't even make $10 an hour?! Now to have to pay MORE for their benefits and lose paid days off....not a win-win in my eyes.


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 8:22 a.m.

Thank you custodians and thank you to your union as well. You did the right thing and made it a win win for all. Now let's move on to the teachers and get bids to privatized their jobs. Perhaps then, they will put down their middle finger and use their thumb, index finger and middle finger to "sign" a package similar to what the custodians have done to save their jobs. Again, thanks to the custodians from us taxpayers, you did the right thing!

Jimmy Olsen

Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 7:42 a.m.

belboz you are dreaming.. from Brit "once the district has made sufficient and necessary cuts, once we have spent enough of the money we're holding that the state gave to us to spend on this purpose, THEN teachers will do their part." which means they will wait until the very end and see what money is left, THEN they will come across with "something". Maybe optional training days like the Saline Teachers.


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 7:33 a.m.

I feel sorry for these employees. How are they going to survive? Does anyone know what this works out to as their base hourly wage?


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 6:51 a.m.

That is about a 10% pay cut, if not more. I'd expect the teachers to take the same. We shall see...


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 6:37 a.m.

Nice job by both sides,not to say it's a great contract for the custodians,but great job getting together and working something out.


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 6:34 a.m.

"I approve of the district's direction to reduce expenditures on non-value added activities." My view is that the custodial staff adds great value to quality at our schools... I am quite thankful for their work and effort. As I have watched my kids in K-12 a2 public schools, I have always been impressed by sparkling floors, clear windows, clean bathrooms, etc. Their work is extra value... It is pride and care that transfers directly to educational experience... And now, the custodians have become true LEADERS at our school system... They have made financial concessions to keep their jobs, and maintain educational quality in the classroom, at their own expense. OK, teachers and administrators... it is your chance to show us similar leadership...


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 6:16 a.m.

It appears that an acceptable solution was found for the school district and the employees. As a taxpayer, I approve of the district's direction to reduce expenditures on non-value added activities. Money is tight right now and we have to optimize expenditures.