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Posted on Wed, Apr 14, 2010 : 10:37 p.m.

Ann Arbor custodians to take pay cuts if district outsources jobs

By David Jesse

Ann Arbor school district custodians would take a pay cut of between $2 per hour to $6 per hour if the district decides to outsource its custodial work, district administrators said tonight.

Administrators are recommending outsourcing the district’s custodial and maintenance services unless they can reach an agreement with the custodians by the board’s April 28 meeting.

The board would be asked to give the custodial contract to GCA Services of Downer’s Grove, Ill., and the maintenance contract to GLES. Combined, the district hopes to get more than $2 million a year in savings from the move.

Thumbnail image for 031010_NEWS_Protest_MRM_01.JPG

From left: Adolfo Valencia, Richard Rudy and Mike Layher hold signs outside the Ann Arbor Public Library protesting privatization last month.

Board members - led by Susan Baskett and Simone Lightfoot - grilled Randy Trent, the district’s executive director of physical properties, over the details of the two recommended bids.

Board members paid special attention to the wage and benefit packages offered by the companies. Both companies have said they'll hire current district employees who wish to switch over.

In addition to wage cuts, both companies would reduce the amount of hours workers are paid for. Neither company would offer any paid time off for their workers, meaning if a worker didn’t work a day, he or she wouldn’t get paid.

GCA would pay a custodian for 240 days of work. The district currently pays for 260 days of work, which also includes paid sick days and paid vacation.

Lightfoot pointed out that under the maintenance terms, a person currently making about $45,000 a year would be reduced to around $30,000 a year.

In addition, under both companies, the cost to an employee for insurance coverage would almost double, from about $560 a year now to about $1,000 a year, Trent said.

The board didn't vote on the bids tonight. District administrators said they continue to negotiate with the current union to see if they can find similar savings.

The district is facing a projected $20 million budget deficit in the 2010-11 school year.

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


Steve Norton, MIPFS

Mon, Apr 19, 2010 : 9:24 a.m.

@josber, No, I don't think a county "enhancement" millage will be back on the ballot anytime soon, so that's not the point. (We will have to renew the county special ed millage in the near future, however.) There are really two separate questions: the first one is how best to deal with the range of outcomes we may face for next year. I wasn't advocating dipping into fund equity to avoid any reductions in teacher compensation. I urged the Board of Education to consider doing it, if necessary, to close whatever gap might be left between the savings they want from custodial services and AFSCME's (custodians' union) best offer. And I understand that their last offer was considerable, just not enough to shave the 20% of costs the district hoped for. This would buy us some time to look at other alternatives that might allow us to keep experienced and caring custodial workers without asking them to make the substantial sacrifices the current privatization bids would require. It would also allow us to see if the worst case scenario turned into reality. (If it didn't, we might not need to use fund equity at all.) The second question is where we go from here. That's where state advocacy comes in. Do I expect the state legislature to take bold steps on its own, with no citizen pressure? Absolutely not. However, if we are able to make our voices heard such that legislators feel that parents and other citizens concerned about their public schools are a constituency they need to pay attention to, change is possible. Given the relatively short time in office created by term limits, I think citizen activists need not only to make noise but to propose specific solutions. Ideas that gain traction with the public will be easier for lawmakers to embrace, even if they are sticking their necks out a bit. Everything I know about the middle school student planning centers is indirect, since I don't have kids in middle school. But I did note that several school board members focused in on the changes there, because they worried that the cuts would undermine the original rationale for the centers (that certified teachers could help kids with their academic work and struggles while also handling conflict management and behavior problems). I'm quite sure that academic and behavior problems are closely linked, and I don't think we ought to be reducing the resources we dedicate to catch these kids before they give up entirely.


Mon, Apr 19, 2010 : 5:41 a.m.

@Steve Norton, I think you are incorrect, and the problem will go to a resolution, it may not be what you like, but the dust will settle. How do the teachers feel about the millage? Probably lousy. Do they want a pay cut?. Doubt it. But people have voted, and that's the bottom line. Did teachers ever want to be in this position? I am sure they didn't. But it's here. The problem about the solving the problem is that different people have decided to solve it differently. You are asking the board to go to the fund equity in what hopes that another millage will pass next year?Your hope is that the legislature will suddenly awaken, and give teachers more money, when they are letting out prisoners, and cutting Medicaid by hundreds of thousands of dollars? That didn't happen on a year 30 out of 37 state senators are slated to leave the Senate. The political will and courage your looking for was used to help break the MEA and to cut spending to schools. That was the attempt done politically at pension reform here in the state. Social services have just been eviscerated, and people are needier than ever. You have to deal with the hand of cards that has been dealt. And it's a lousy, lousy, hand. So yes, the options are a bit of a pay cut and bigger class numbers, which is probably what is going to happen because the union will jettison a job before they agree to substantial across the board cuts. Who wants a big pay cut?Nobody is going to vote for a representative that gave them that, and the union reps know that The teachers can't get out of this untouched, and that means the kids won't. Take for example where this is going for the board. There's student centers in middle schools for disciplining issues that are run by teachers. Whether that's an effective tool or not, I don't happen to believe they are. and consider them essentially warehousing situations, because the bottom line is that the kids aren't in class doing their job, which is to learn, but anyway, now the board is looking into hiring a paraprofessional, preferably a special ed one good with tough kids to run that, instead of a teacher, because it would save a lot of money. How do you think that would make that para feel? Unable to find a good job in special ed, they would get dinked with possibly one of the most difficult jobs in the middle school for many thousand less than a teacher would have gotten paid. And yet, people need the work, the administration probably won't have any trouble filling that position.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 11:57 p.m.

@DonBee, I agree that there are ways to mitigate risks in a contract, including those that stem from policy and economic uncertainty. They may be working on just such language now. In fact, I believe there are examples of such provisions in at least one other WISD district. But you can't blame them for taking it slower when they are doing this for the first time. After all, until relatively recently (1995), local schools were subject to rather little policy risk from the state. And being funded, at that time, with very stable property taxes, the economic risk was moderate as well. It's not just the contract language, it's the working relationship between the parties to the contract and how they understand the risks they face. With the current leadership on both sides, I'm betting that they are making good progress on this front.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 11:44 p.m.

@stunhsif I certainly don't mean to minimize anyone's sacrifices, but I suspect that many white-collar professionals are still better off than they were 15 years ago. With teachers, it's a mixed bag. And I wouldn't go so far as to say no one has any money: according to Commerce Dept. data, used by the state Legislature, Michigan total personal income has grown each year for the last couple of decades, until 2009. Even after accounting for inflation, there were modest gains from 1998-2008. It wasn't until this last year that real personal income fell back to 1998 levels. (They use these figures to comply with the Headlee rules limiting the percent of personal income which can be collected in tax. We are farther below that limit than at any time since it was instituted in 1978.) Other studies indicate that income and wealth have become more unequal in Michigan over the last couple of decades. Perhaps this is an argument for a graduated income tax? @aataxpayer, I don't mean to say that teacher's salaries are more important than other people's, including the examples you provide. Just that they are important, if we value the work that they do. Teachers may not be more important than social workers, public defenders or members of the clergy. But I want all those people to be able to make a plausible career of what they do, without having to make a vow of poverty. Unfortunately, our country seems comfortable with a system in which the most important and valuable members of our society are clearly hedge fund managers.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 11:21 p.m.

@aataxpayer I didn't say DB pensions are fiscally more sound, just that transitioning away from them requires more resources in the short-medium term rather than less. My worries about MPSERS are similar to the concerns people have about Social Security: it's struggling under the weight of a generational shift (more people are retired, and are living longer, but the number of current employees is shrinking) and the so-far unchecked increases in the cost of health care. But from an ethical point of view, shifting from DB to DC in general is a huge transfer of risk from the employer (or pension provider) to the employee. We may or may not think that's wise, but it's something that is rarely talked about.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 11:14 p.m.

@josber I don't agree that fund equity is untouchable - AAPS is using about $4 million to plug the remaining holes in the current school year. I certainly don't advocate treating it like a cookie jar, but one of the main purposes of keeping fund equity at around 15% of annual budget is to insure against policy and economic risk. DonBee's comment indicates that there are other ways of doing that, at least in part, and I agree with him in that. I think looking at history can be helpful: a great many people, including a goodly number who comment regularly on education stories here, argued against the millage saying either that it was not necessary or that they felt teachers ("the union") should make big concessions first. It's no fair now to say that we simply find ourselves in this predicament between larger class sizes or salary cuts. We put ourselves there. How would you feel, as a teacher, going to the negotiating table knowing that the voters of your community (whose children you care for) have already said they'd rather balance the school budget out of your hide rather than their pocketbooks? So, if you feel that teachers deserve to take a big pay cut, fine - you're entitled to your opinion. But if you don't, then please don't talk about it as if this were all inevitable. Instead, join with me and thousands more across the state of Michigan who are trying to solve the problem.


Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 10:17 p.m.

Steve - I only disagree with one item you have posted here - that it is hard to negotiate when you don't know what the government will do. I have to do it all the time, around the world. The key is to define the final cost of contract and the contingencies that need to be in it for the likely changes the government might make. We know what the various bills have in them, in one case you assume all of the bills will pass, that sets up one set of numbers. In another you assume none will, that sets up the other end of the numbers. We already know what the goal is. With a good spreadsheet and the underlying numbers, it should be possible for both sides to come to the table with a range of options that achieve the goal and contingent clauses that keep the total at the same point, but change the underlying contract based on the final results in Lansing. This is basic business in large projects around the world. In this case contingency can even be put in the contract for different levels of state funding in the form of a formula for adding or subtracting pay based on the final amount that Lansing passes. It takes more work, but if it were done, it would allow the board to move forward with other issues. To say that AAPS has to wait for Lansing to create this contract, does not match the way business is done. I dislike the cuts AAPS decided on, but I have covered that ground. It is time to move forward. Not debate history.


Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 10:01 p.m.

I think we have to remember that the AAPS is NOT an employment agency!!!! It is an educational agency. Its mission is to educate children, not employ people, save jobs, etc. Every decision that is made should come back to the core mission of educating children. If the district can save $2.2 million a year, that's potentially 22-30 teachers that can stay in the classroom to teach our children. The company that the AAPS is considering using also provides custodial services to many local school districts. I think I remember Southfield and Birmingham being mentioned. Remember the AAPS's mission is to educate children!!


Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 6:31 p.m.

As a person on AFSCME neg. team we have worked very hard to come up with the savings. The Board turned down our last offer, so we will continue to work toward the goal, so as to save all of our jobs. Our biggest concern is the students and how all of this is affecting the students and the entire District. We all know there is a need for cuts but it will take the village to raise a child but also a village to save peoples jobs. The Board has a lot on their plates and everyone needs to stop pointing fingers and try to work together to get past these difficult times.


Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 2:25 p.m.

@Lisa, If you are paying $250 an hour for a speech therapist you are getting ripped off. Do you homework, no need to pay that much. @ Steve Norton, I am a white collar professional in the transportation/trucking business. I have not had a pay raise since 2005 and in April of 2009 I had my pay cut 5%. On top of that they took away the $500.00 dollars a year that they gave us for our 401K ( no pension here Steve). They also took away our bonus opportunity which I always made. So I have seen my pay effectively cut around 20% over the past 5 years. Am I an anomoly Steve, I think not. My personal situation is a reflection of what has been going on in this state begining around year 2000. GM,Chrysler,Metaldyne,Lear Corp,Dura Automotive,Collins&Aikman,Delphi, all have gone bancrupt over the past 5 years. There is far less income to tax in this state and that is why the MEA and the local teachers unions need to quit holding us hostage and our children hostage. All this talk about we need to find a different way to fund the schools is Tom_Foolery. There ain't no money to be found folks, no money hidden under Aunt Bessie's wardrobe or Uncle Bennie's recliner. And it's gonna get worse over the next few years before it starts getting better.

Lisa Starrfield

Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 11:41 a.m.

My son's speech therapist charges $250/hour so no, I don't think I'm special compared to others with similiar education.


Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 7:46 a.m.

Dipping into the fund equity is a bad idea, and it's important not to go there.That was also Brit Satchwell's pitch to the BOE. That's not negotiating, that's putting your head in the sand thinking... The hard truth is that the union has to agree to considerable concessions to keep the district intact, and I am not talking about the bus drivers and custodians, who will probably eat, percentage wise, a very huge hit no matter what happens, but the teachers have to. Say that they AAEA simply won't negotiate downwards, arguing that the teacher's already have to cover the 3% loss for current pension outlays. Follow along, the administration will then issue layoffs, because they don't have money otherwise, and who is left has to do the deliver, with less support staff, and more kids an education to all those kids? The teachers get to feel this problem one way or another. What would a teacher rather, the current number of kids in a classroom, and a paycut or more kids in a class room, and less of a pay cut.. With more kids in a classroom, it is going to be harder to for the teacher to do their job and much less to do it well. Parents will start breathing down the teacher's backs, complaining, and a ticked off parent is a very difficult being to deal with!Then, administration will start getting more complaints, and worse, kids start getting in trouble, first of course the more vulnerable, special ed and at risk kids, and then others kids will feel the effects of unhappy situations. Pick your poison, people... Many people in the state are in far worse straits than the teachers. Arguing that they are public employees and shouldn't be subject to market forces isn't an argument, just ask the custodians and bus drivers. That argument is not going to go very far. Arguing that AA won't keep good staff, well, look around, there was a report just a few days ago that 96% of Michigan schools districts have issued pink slips. Where is the staff going to go? Out of state perhaps. Arguing that the classroom can't get touched or parents will leave, is not reason enough to say teacher's can't take a big pay cut. The classroom is getting affected one or another is this scenario, it is incumbent on the adults to do the best decision possible for the kids. Maybe the parents do not leave instead they ask that the problems be addressed.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Sat, Apr 17, 2010 : 11:15 p.m.

@aataxpayer Again, on retirement, bills currently in the legislature would shift all new employees to a hybrid defined contribution plan. But that leaves the system with an overhang, where current employees are not paying in as much to keep current retirees afloat. Hence the requirement that school employees pay an additional 3% of their salary to MPSERS (above the contribution they already make). This won't lower the district's contribution, at least not for some years. It's necessary because there is a funding gap when you transition from a mostly pay-as-you-go DB system to a personal account-based DC system. This bill just passed the state Senate, by the way, and is being considered by the House. When private employers abandon their pension plans, the burden gets dumped on the Federal government (Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp), which can usually cover just pennies on the dollar. It would be immoral, and illegal, to follow their example for public employees. Health benefits, by the way, are negotiated at the local level, so there is nothing to lobby for. However, there is a bill under consideration to require that all school employees pay at least 20% of their health benefit costs. That bill just cleared committee in the state Senate. The real problem right now is that there is so much on the table in the legislature that it's making it hard to put things on the table in local negotiations. Again, this isn't about the MEA, it's about our children's teachers. The pay they are negotiating is for the skilled and caring people who educate our children every day. Do the unions protect bad teachers? Maybe, sometimes, though that is arguable. But what you can't argue with is that most teachers are pretty good, and some are truly excellent. Making sure that all our teachers are great or excellent would be a wonderful goal. But it will not save money, unless we also say that those great and wonderful teachers are basically worth a whole lot less. We're asking our teachers to prepare our children for a future which is very different from the one we grew up in, where there are no guaranteed jobs and advanced education will be required most everywhere. Education provides people with the flexibility to go with the flow when times change, rather than being sucked under. And we're cutting back? That makes no sense to me. But, getting back to the topic: I'm not arguing that teachers should remain untouched while everyone else suffers. I'm arguing that we get what we pay for, in the classroom and in our school buildings and buses. Using some fund equity to buy us a year to find a better solution sounds like a reasonable risk to me. If the district accepts the concessions which AFSCME is apparently offering, and if school funding does not follow the worst case scenario, we might not need to dip into fund equity at all.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Sat, Apr 17, 2010 : 10:55 p.m.

@bornblu I'm willing to accept your description of what those very valuable people are paid. Again, that isn't necessarily a reason to pay teachers less. For the record, a new teacher joining AAPS with a BA would earn $39,540 a year in salary; with an MA, it would be $44,539. After 14 years of service, teachers reach the contract maximum; a teacher with a BA makes $66,975 and with an MA makes $79,899. (This is from the salary schedule - "step table" - for the current contract.) Michigan teachers on average have had their salaries lag behind inflation by 11% over the last decade, and that's without any dramatic pay cuts in the last couple of years. Can most white-collar professional workers say the same before 2008? And when private sector salaries start picking up again, there is about zero likelihood that the resources available for teacher pay will pick up with them, mostly because of how our schools are funded. As to health benefits, the current contract says: "[T]he Boards contribution to an eligible teachers healthcare and vision care shall not exceed the cost of the BCBSM PPO offered to other employees of the district pro-rated to the employees percent of benefit entitlement." Teachers can choose between two MESSA plans (a traditional fee-for-service plan, and a PPO) and two HMOs (Priority Health and Blue Care Network). Not bad, but not exactly "Cadillac." Moreover, districts have an incentive to offer more in health benefits than in pay because they don't have to pay retirement contributions on non-payroll benefits. As to those retirement benefits: again, just because the private sector has made the mistaken choice to force employees to be at the mercy of the stock markets or bet on the solvency of Social Security does not mean it was the best choice. We have the power to make that choice for public employees. Why should we make the same mistake? Even so, the 17% contributions districts are making (slated to go up to 19% next year) are not earmarked for the benefit of current employees. Half of it goes to keep the system solvent, and half goes to pay for the health benefits of current retirees. If I were a school employee, I would not want to be betting on MPSERS being able to meet it's promises for my retirement.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Sat, Apr 17, 2010 : 10:51 p.m.

@owlnight I'm sure that teacher pay has been better than many people in the area, which I think says more about how we treat working people in this society than it does about teachers. But teachers are the people we entrust our children to seven hours a day for ten months of the year. Wouldn't you want the best possible people doing that? And wouldn't you want to make sure those great teachers could make a plausible living at it? (And yes, not every teacher is great, but that's a reason to encourage productive and insightful peer reviews, not cut everyone's pay.)


Sat, Apr 17, 2010 : 7:15 p.m.

@Steve I can not speak to the current salary level of teachers in AAPS, outside of the last published (2007 I believe) list of those earning in excess of $75,000.00. I do not believe though that there has been any reduction in salary and/or benifits of significant amounts since that time. What I can let you know with personal certianty is that the salary of many "private sector" workers whose jobs require advanced degrees and continuing education is rarely equal to that of what teachers now enjoy as salary/retirement/benifit packages. Of people whom I am familiar with such as MSW's, Occupational, Speech, Recreational, L.L.P.'s (and many P.T.'s), all jobs of which educational requirements and resposibilities are similar, receive less compensation. Individually, I have dealt with many others including Attorneys, Architects, that on a comprable experience level earn an equivalent or lesser salary.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Sat, Apr 17, 2010 : 4:25 p.m.

Hmmm. I don't mean to get partisan, but show me the evidence that public sector unions, and especially the MEA, call the shots in Lansing? We had twelve years with a Republican governor (John Engler) with either a solid Republican legislature (most years) or occasionally a divided one. That gave us Proposal A and major income tax cuts in the 90s. However you may feel about Jennifer Granholm, you also have to acknowledge that she was working with a solidly Republican legislature in her first term and a split legislature in the second. So, unless you claim that the Michigan GOP is just as in the thrall of the MEA as the Michigan Dems are supposed to be, I just don't see the argument. I also don't see the policy evidence. The only significant tax increase related to schools in recent memory was the temporary increase to the income tax as part of the 2007 budget deal. That was after they finished stripping any remaining trust funds, and sold off future tobacco settlement revenues, to try to avoid cutting schools again without raising taxes. (Schools were cut mid-year, by $75 per pupil, in both 2003 and 2004.) The MBT surcharge was designed to simply replace school revenue lost elsewhere. If the MEA is calling the shots, why aren't our schools better funded? Why have teacher salaries been losing ground against inflation for a decade or more, even in years when private sector wages rose? (If you want to compare teachers with private sector workers, please do so properly: private sector workers whose jobs require a college bachelor's degree and are expected to continue their education while working, with a masters being the expectation within ten years or less.) Why did the 2007 tax compromise include both major changes tightening teacher pension rules plus the "MESSA bills" forcing MESSA to release claims histories for groups of employees as small as 100 (and amendments to outlaw cherry-picking were defeated)? Is the MEA perfect? Of course not. Neither is any other group. But blaming our current school finance mess on one lobbying group simply distracts from the reality of our situation. And that reality is that, the current recession aside, we have made tax policy choices as a state which undermined the foundations of our public schools. Some people may approve of that, but I believe most would not. And in the current recession, we need to decide if we want to cut our expenses on everything equally, or if we want to set priorities to protect the things which are important to our current well-being and our future prosperity. I believe that education is our investment in the present and future of our communities. We need to separate the necessary process of making our schools as efficient as possible from the hidden ideological agenda of those who would undermine schools and devalue the people who work in them. Michigan can be a wealthy state again, if we move to strategically shift our economy away from sectors that simply do not provide the jobs and income we need. However, if we set our sights on the bottom, we will surely end up there.


Sat, Apr 17, 2010 : 12:20 a.m.

An interesting view on things... I found it and posted it, but I am not taking a position on it.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Sat, Apr 17, 2010 : 12:01 a.m.

@aataxpayer, We may need an "enhancement" millage, but that doesn't mean it will happen, at least not anytime soon. We cannot raise operating funds locally in AAPS. A county-wide millage, like what lost last year, has to be supported by school boards that represent a majority of the students in the ISD for it to go on the ballot. In practice, here in WISD, that means a minimum of three districts, if you assume AAPS is one of them. The political reality is that, while the millage passed in the City of Ann Arbor and by a smaller margin in the AAPS district, it lost badly in most other school districts. It will take some time, and probably a LOT of pain, for school boards in those suburban and out-county districts to be willing to stick their necks out again. In reality, anything less than a (nearly) unanimous request for a new millage to be put on the ballot will be a non-starter. I suspect that the AAEA is keenly aware of the impact of their negotiating stance on local public opinion. But, sadly, control of school funding is not local. Gestures on the AAEA's part made locally are unlikely to move mountains in Lansing. In the year of the tea parties, an election year, who in Lansing will make a courageous vote to find new revenue for schools?

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Fri, Apr 16, 2010 : 2:19 p.m.

@aataxpayer, No one who is not connected to the negotiating teams knows for sure what is or is not on the table, or what may have been offered. But one of the complicating factors are several pieces of legislation which could really impact teacher pay by law. Understandably, teachers are a bit reluctant to commit to fixed numbers with the district when the legislature is making a lot of noise about major provisions which may or may not come into effect. But, there are ways around this, and they take time to negotiate. For that matter, we don't know precisely what AFSCME has offered (or at least I don't), only that in the administration's judgment it does not meet the savings they want to get out of custodial services. However, the board is privy to that information, and they can choose to go in a different direction or split the difference somehow. If you're hinting that the AAEA should do something in order to help another try at the county millage, don't worry: I believe the chance of that coming up again this year or even next is next to nil. These cuts are for the long term. That's why so much is at stake.

Jack Panitch

Fri, Apr 16, 2010 : 11:22 a.m.

I have been monitoring the commentary on this story closely and with great concern for the custodial and maintenance workers and all who feel passionately or even just strongly ideologically on all sides of this issue. Channel 18 reruns BOE meetings. I urge everyone to watch the rerun of this Wednesday night's meeting. Better yet, for those of you who have access to a DVR, record the meeting: you will be able to play back the parts you don't fully understand the first run through. (There were many of these parts for me). Watch Mr. Randy Trent's testimony. Listen to the questions the trustees asked and the answers they received. Mr. Jesse does a great job with his article but has limited space and time. What you can't get from the article (but you will get from the television) is a sense of the quality of the people on the Board, the seriousness and care they show for this issue and what a huge credit they all are to this community. You also can't get from the article (but you can get from the television) a sense of Mr. Trent's preparedness and professionalism. This is our community at its best, and there is more to come before any decision is made. The negotiators continue to negotiate. We can't be part of that. The trustees continue to educate themselves so that each will have the "big picture" for the deliberations yet to come. The District continues to do its level best to figure out a way to preserve educational excellence without sacrificing equity, but it is doing its job to explore and keep open all options, so that we, the community, as represented by our trustees, can make the best choices for our kids and our schools. Unhappily, that duty can create financial and emotional upset for real people before any real choices are made. (The timing of the District's recommendation had something to do with a notice provision either under the current contract or under state law). The community needs to continue to educate itself (ourselves), as well, and make its views known.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Fri, Apr 16, 2010 : 11:07 a.m.

I think we need to lower the temperature on this a bit and start looking at better solutions. I'm very upset about the privatization proposals, as both an AAPS parent and a concerned citizen. But I also understand that AAPS has to commit resources to their core mission - educating children - possibly at the expense of other things. Some things everyone should know: the AAPS and AAEA (teachers union) are now and have been in negotiations for quite some time. They just can't talk about it in public. And I know the AAEA leadership feels strongly about privatization, but they are also obligated to work to protect their own bargaining unit. It may well be that some helpful changes come out of these negotiations. The question is, will the privatization process be held until we know what the environment truly is? Another thing is that this discussion of privatization right now is being driven by state law that requires that layoff notices be sent out by the end of April, if there is a CHANCE of someone being laid off. But that doesn't mean that the situation on April 30th is set in stone. (Same goes for teacher pink slips.) More: the bid from the Illinois company had to be recommended to the board by law, since they were technically the "lowest qualified bidder." However, the school board is not bound to go along with that recommendation. In fact, the school board is not bound to go along with the decision to privatize at all. But if they do not, they need to figure out how to achieve the savings they need to close the budget deficit. They can ask all other employee groups (including teachers) to take a deeper cut. But the problem with that is that school funding will not recover anytime soon, even if private sector pay does. So teachers giving up 10% will not get it back for years, if ever. What would you do in their shoes? Another option is to draw down the district's savings account ("fund equity") enough to close the gap between AFSCME's current offer and the needed savings. That would only put the issue off for a year, but that might buy time to find better solutions. There are a lot of problems and risks with this approach, but it is available to the school board if they want it. It's also worth remembering that the $20 million figure is based on the worst case scenario, and funding levels may not be that bad next year. Of course, we won't know until the Legislature gets around to setting their school aid budget (which they managed not to do until October last year). Given our recent experience with state funding, I can't blame AAPS leaders for working off the worst case. But that's far from a given. Personally, I've been floating the idea of creating a local, non-profit corporation to take on the school custodians at around their current pay levels. Custodians would lose the bulk of their pensions if they were not vested in MPSERS (10 years), but there is a lot of room for making matching retirement contributions to employees and still save money compared to the 19% AAPS must contribute for every payroll dollar. This wouldn't produce the same level of savings that AAPS is hoping for in their budget plan, I'm sure, but it would control costs in the long term because the liability of unpredictable pension plan contributions would be gone. (Remember that what AAPS pays into MPSERS is not saved for individual employees; it goes to keep the plan solvent. The health-care benefit portion is pay-as-you-go, meaning that AAPS's contributions for retirement health care - about half - are going right out the back door to pay for current retirees' health care. Of course, if everyone privatizes food, custodial and transportation workers, there will be that much less going into MPSERS, meaning that contribution rates will probably go up.....) This isn't my field, and I have no idea if it would really work. But as long as the school board can pick the best option, and not necessarily the low bidder, we have room for some creative options.

Lisa Starrfield

Fri, Apr 16, 2010 : 10:53 a.m.

Owlnight, The teacher's union are still negotiating and this cut was made. Do you honestly believe it would be unmade regardless of what we cut especially given how the state is attempting to force school districts to put their custodial services out to bid?

Lisa Starrfield

Fri, Apr 16, 2010 : 10 a.m.

It's fascinating how some are so quick to blame the teachers' unions for the privatization of custodial services. Oddly, one of the complaints I often hear about unions in general is that union rules make it difficult to get things done 'efficiently'; I wonder if those advocating privatization realize that when the private company doesn't wish something to be done they will blame the contract. We teachers know the impact the loss of our custodians will have on the school. We rely on them daily. We don't have the time to move an extra desk for the new kid, to mop the lobby's halls after a particularly snowy or rainy morning, or to set up chairs and equipment for assemblies; we rely on these ladies and gentlemen. We know we will be the ones picking up the slack when the privatized company fails to do the job properly. We will be the ones cleaning desks, boards, sweeping our floors, removing the trash, picking up the hallways. It won't be the parents, it won't be the kids, it won't be the taxpayers who said no to the millage. It will be us... because there will be no one else. Here in Ann Arbor, we've seen the quality of the food provided to our students decline seriously while the cost has gone up. It is foolish to think that private custodial services will be better. Instead, we will have workers making little more than minimal wage with no benefits, no sick days... meaning the people who sanitize our buildings will be here when they are sick or injured. But let's blame the teacher... not the private company who cuts the workers pay to make a profit nor the taxpayers who complained that $16 a month more was too much. No, blame the teachers. Even though concessions on the teachers' parts would not have saved these jobs... not even the 10 to 20% pay cut some are advocating. Administration cut these jobs before negotiations on the teacher's contract were completed; they could have waited but didn't. Of course, they may simply be looking at what is happening in the Legislature where politicians are trying to FORCE local school districts to put out all custodial, food, and transportation services to bid. We are devastated about what is happening to the men and women we depend upon daily but we are not its cause nor could we cure this.


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 7:42 p.m.

After reading the comment, how to wax the steps, makes me wonder what type of house they keep. This whole scenario reminds me of the Titanic. Yes, the Titanic. Why? Because AAPS is saving Balais, according to Semper Fi and AATaxpayer to keep their pay checks. Cut off all appendages to save money and live according to their lifestyle. I do agree with a lot of this. The teachers really need to take a 10% pay cut to save the custodians and their jobs. They say they are behind them, but after this? I really don't think so. Sad to think of who will be the one to turn off the lites when it is all said and done.


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 7:37 p.m.

Let's outsource the Board of Education to a contract company. We wouldn't lose any expertise, would we? That makes about as much sense as contracting out jobs of employees who keep our schools clean and safe in Ann Arbor. Most of us have worked somewhere in our lives where a job is a job and that's all. What attitude does that bring forth? Next time you want your furnace cleaned or looked at, just hire some guy off Craigslist who says he knows what he's doing. What's the worst that could happen?


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 5:51 p.m.

"This is the type of custodians you will get if the district privatizes." It will lead to new people being hired and having to learn a set of tasks at a certain place of business. That's what everyone has to do at a just about any job. of course who the heck is gunna teach them the right way to do it?


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 5:20 p.m.

Over Spring Break a newly hired custodian asked me how to clean the landing of the stairwell so he could wax it.I told him he first had to sweep down the stairs first before waxing the landing in the middle.He said that didn't make sense as the floor would be dry before he swept the stairs.Now I ask you what would you do? This is the type of custodians you will get if the district privatizes.He will still have a job because he has the lowest pay as a new hire.The persons who know the buildings the best are the ones that will leave which in turn will cost the district a lot more money because these new people don't know the buildings and how to know if things are not working right. They won't care.The new employees don't have anything to lose because they could work anywhere for those wages and don't have time invested in the schools. For those of you out there that think all we do is sweep floors and "anybody can do it"--I'd like to see you come in and do this job for just a week. You will soon learn that not just anybody can do it. I'd like to see Mr. Roberts try it for a week and see if it is worth the low wages that the private company is offering to pay.


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 4:26 p.m.

I think everyone living in the school district should take 7% of their current income and give it to the schools, teachers and non-teachers alike. what is good for the goose is good for the gander.


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 3:59 p.m.

20 some odd years later and I still remember Claude the janitor at my elementary school in Ann Arbor, he was a fixture like the teachers, principal, food service worker and administrative staff, following me all the way through school from kindergarten to sixth grade. My how the sense of community has grown out of this town. All you hear about is people complaining about what this and that costs, why not put your griping to positive energy and contribute some time to your community schools. Everybody wants something for nothing these days. Also, the lrampant litigation abound in today's society almost prevents people from becoming involved hands on. The new play ground at my elementary school was paid for by the PTO and installed by parents, with a little help from a contractor. Whatever happened to that reality?


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 3:29 p.m.

"It's a double edged sword. Do you want people to have teaching jobs or do you want the absolute best educational system. You tell me??" I don't care cause I don't have kids :) But seriously, I am not in favor of having a bunch of lazy bums not pulling their weight either. I'm all for testing and I do think once a Union bemomes to powerful they can dictate way more than they should (as in the UAW). Of course on the other side I know that in a unionless job they can just give you the axe for no reason. Unions are (supposed to be)their to protect the rights of the workers, not hold the employer hostage, but of course this can happen. When it comes down to contract time the employer has to be strong and get what they need out of the contract as well, if not, then they better be ready to hire a whole mess of teachers. Which, their probably are many looking for jobs these days.


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 3:14 p.m.

@ Ignatz, I'm glad to hear some real data. As I said, I have no doubt that there are hard working people that do an outstanding job in the AAPS system (custodians and teachers). I am well aware that there are a lot of hard working people in jobs with substandard pay/benefits. The union system, IMO, does not correct this, but makes it worse in the long run. Unfortunately, we're currently stuck with it. I will add that my displeasure has a lot more to do with teachers than custodians. Regardless, the school system and the unions are inefficient and such a system is destined to ultimately fail for the reasons previously stated.


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 2:52 p.m.

@ Lokalisierung, I'm glad we can have a civil debate. If the unions can't strike, they can obstruct. Actually, I don't think the "picture" I painted is rosy at all. I think businesses are ruthless, calculatingly efficient, and anything but fair - but that is the world we live in and it always has been that way. That's what survival is. Most of us are too comfortable to realize it. Life isn't fair, and it never will be. I mean, come on, when you mow the lawn you use the most effective and efficient path - that's human nature. I'm not unveiling any mysteries here. I simply don't think with kneejerk emotional reactions based on creating a utopian world that will never exist, as they are useless. Furthermore, I don't have any "feelings" on this issue. It's just data. If you want efficiency you cannot have laggers-on and weak links in a chain. Once again, just logic. If the educational system was working we wouldn't be where we are, correct? Unions are a big part of that problem, but not the only problem. Simply put, if you want an effective educational system, put in place a series of "tests" that will weed out ineffective teachers no matter how long they've been there and make sure that if somebody better and bright comes along you are not limiting your educational resources by having to keep somebody else just based on how long they've been there. We can settle for mediocrity by somehwat satisfying student needs and at the same time worrying about teachers having jobs as an end in and of itself. It's a double edged sword. Do you want people to have teaching jobs or do you want the absolute best educational system. You tell me??


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 2:41 p.m.

@Independent_Thinker: I used to be a union custodian and still work with them on a daily basis. If it wasn't for a union, these folks would most likely make just above minumum wage and have bad benefits. I also use to manage union custodians. It's been my experience that those who get away with not pulling their weight are allowed to for a few reasons. These include lazy and/or apathetic manamgement, interference from those in Human Resources who do not trust the word of supervisors and, if it gets to that point, arbitrators trying to ride the fence so both sides will continue to call them back. I've gotten rid of plenty of bad union folks. The good ones, by the way, don't want them around either. These are the decent people of which I speak. They want to come in and do a fairs days work for a fair days pay.


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 2:27 p.m.

"My knowledge of unions is quite correct. They are people that ban together and make themselves a force that is difficult to deal with because they act collectively and can halt all work by going on strike." I do not think any of the Ann Arbor Unions can strike. I bleieve it is written in their Union contracts. "The above is not quite correct. They will get rid of those who do not pull their weight." Always the problem with an issue like this are the strong feelings on opposite sides of this. You're view paints a rosey picture that people in business are fair and kind and go on the merit of those working; which I disagree with. My side would be more slanted to the business soing what it has to to survive and not being afraid to can people to save a buck; which you would disagree with.


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 2:11 p.m.

@ Ignatz, If we would have been too weak to form this nation we would have failed. It's that simple. Why does logic fail here? How do you know they are decent and hard working? Please provide that data. Is it because that's how you feel you want them to be? My recollection of numerous teachers in both high school and college was that some were great, some good, some ok, some were lazy, some weren't too bright, some were terrible. Is your recollection different? If by decent and hard working you mean they are not killers and they show up to work, that's very likely true, however, a superior educational team it does not make. There are much better indicators than showing up and being a "good" person which indicate whether the quality of education being given is sufficient. I don't dispute that there are some great teachers, custodians, etc, in the AAPS system, but it is impossible to weed anything out (good, bad, or ugly) with a union system in place. Thank you


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 2:01 p.m.

@ Chris, I'm not a conservative, but I am certainly not a liberal - there are plenty of things to be. FYI - I have been in the Teamsters Union during a strike and I also have a Master's Degree, just to clear that up. Furthermore, I have never read anything by Ayn Rand. I am, as I state, an independent thinker. I find it sad that if I don't follow a weakling liberal agenda I am labeled a conservative. You make a lot of suppositions for which you have no data. However, it is no surprise, as it is typical for a liberal to make decisions and suppositions using their emotions rather than data and logic. Furthermore, I am not a sheep, I am looking out for myself and not you, as anybody that is aware of human nature would do. Are you in a union or have you been in one? If not, your credibility is zero. I am basing my opinions on both experience and the obvious, and I look much farther back into human nature than simply the recent history (the creation of unions). Look back 140,000 years or so, not just far enought to sell your liberal agenda. If we ran sports team like unions, they would all suck, every last one of them. So, the question is, do you want a good educational team or do want touchy-feely nonsense where everybody has a job no matter how weak their skills are? @ Lokalisierung My knowledge of unions is quite correct. They are people that ban together and make themselves a force that is difficult to deal with because they act collectively and can halt all work by going on strike. They artificially inflate wages by working in collective bargaining units that guarantee certain wages and other benefits whether or not some of their members are pulling their weight. The original purpose was somewhat sound, as it curtailed unfair labor practices. At this point, those unfair labor practices have been taken care of through state law. All we have left now are large bands of people who are not strong enough to make their way independenly and thus must use these collective units to force upon others what they want. "Well obviously if you let the employer choose who gets the axe they pick the peopl eworking their the longest, becasue they earn more money. Than poor old guy is 55 and freshly fired." The above is not quite correct. They will get rid of those who do not pull their weight. If the 55 year old guy is a genius at what he does, he'll stay. If it's a job that anybody can do, they'd likely get rid of the oldest because that person would make the most money. This makes perfect sense. The world is a cold, cruel, calcualting place - always has been and always will be - it's your job to survive and if you put yourself in a position that makes you vulnerable you have failed to survive. Really - Who would you want in charge of your child's educational fund, the guy that's been there for 30 years or the guy that is a known financial genius regardless of his age? I didn't make the rules - they simply exist. You may not like it. Get over it. IT


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 1:47 p.m.

@Independent_Thinker: That's quite a slap in the face to a bunch of decent hardworking people. Does your analysis of unions carry over to those who band together to form a nation in order to get relief from oppression? After all, some Americans suck and are weak.


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 1:22 p.m.

@ indy thinker Your knowledge of unions is of course sad, but I didn't expect much more. Are unions doing everything right? No. But it's a lot better than not having one. "- When it comes time to get rid of people, the people here the least amount of time go first, even if people who have been here longer suck more." Well obviously if you let the employer choose who gets the axe they pick the peopl eworking their the longest, becasue they earn more money. Than poor old guy is 55 and freshly fired.


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 1:11 p.m.

That's it, keep on eliminating the jobs for us locals. I hope the persons idea it was looses his/her job and can't afford to feed his/her family for just one day. Better yet, one night at the shelter ought to open their eyes. See you on the street, don't come crying to me.


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 12:09 p.m.

@ Independent_Thinker, I would never hate you. While I do think that you've read too much Ayn Rand, I understand your position. You are product of your conservative, minimally educated background. You are not an independent thinker, but a sheep, following the herd of the edge of the cliff. Without Unions, you would be working Saturday and Sunday, think about that!?

Lisa Hirsch

Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 12:05 p.m.

This is so wrong! According to your article, the cuts in pay would actually be about 30% for these workers plus fewer days working and not paid time off AND higher out of pocket expenses for health care. There have got to be other cuts that could be made than on the backs of the workers who make the least in the district.


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 11:57 a.m.

The end of the middle class!


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 11:37 a.m.

Why is this a surprise? If they can get the work done cheaper by outsourcing, so be it. They should have seen the writing on the wall with the outsourcing of SKILLED jobs overseas and the massive layoffs in the auto industry. If they were smart they would have read the papers and noticed the trend years ago, then took advantage of any tuition reimbursement that I'm sure was part of their benefits and gained some marketable skills so the inevitable wouldn't hit them so hard. I have multiple technical associate degrees and a BS from EMU and I don't make near the $45,000 a year with benefits that they had been raking in for all these years, so its kind of hard for me to feel sorry for them.

Andrew Thomas

Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 11:04 a.m.

The wages being offered by GCA is representative of the prevailing wage scale in private industry for unskilled and semi-skilled workers. So can someone please explain to me why we should be paying a 20-30% premium to workers just because they are working for a public entity?

Jim Mulchay

Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 11 a.m.

I'm not sure of the all the numbers, but based on the article, right now we have staff paying state and federal taxes on 45,000 and spending what they have left in the area. In the proposal these employees would now be paying taxes on 30,000 and spending the remainder (if any) in the area. The economics may make sense in the big picture, but it seems a bitter pill for the employees (local residents) to have to swallow. For each employee there will (according to these numbers) 15,000 dropped out or the "tax pool" and the local purchasing pool. For those employees raising a family, it would seem to me that this would be devastating.


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 9:28 a.m.

They privatized the lunchroom. The food went from terrific to mediocre. We have terrific custodians and maintenance staff now. What about September? The terrific people we work with now will be gone in the fall. Sad sad day indeed. I am really worried about how clean and safe the schools really will be starting September. Good luck to those who leave and get something better then this.


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 9:26 a.m.

How do you Ann Arborites not get it? I'm guessing the AAPS custodians are in a union. I know the teachers are. A union is the perfect recipe for creating the "worst team possible". Of course, there have to be cuts to teachers, custodians, etc. As soon as the smoke clears and results become important because there isn't a bloated amount of money to hand out there have to be cuts. The problem is, the cuts happen by seniority and not merit. These poor people get trapped and put 10 years in (or whatever) because they are led to believe in this "worst possible team" system and then get the boot because the schools can't just get rid of the people that suck, they have to get rid of people by seniority rank. I love hearing these "dedicated service" lines from people. I went to a good high school. Dedicated service was about as common as common sense. Plenty of teachers and custodians are not the sharpest tools in the shed/hardest working people. If they suck, get rid of them. Bottom Line: Union = - I am not good enough to get anywhere on my own merit so I have to join up with a giant group to protect that fact. - We join together in weakness to protect all of us, even though we know some of us suck. - When it comes time to get rid of people, the people here the least amount of time go first, even if people who have been here longer suck more. - In many cases, it simply protects a job that "anybody can do". These are all tenants guaranteed to ultimately produce failure. Ok, liberal Ann Arborites, start hating me. IT


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 8:36 a.m.

@dogpaddle: If the services offered by the Illinois company do not fit he needs of the students, then AAPS should contract with a different company and will have an easier time doing so than trying to fix problems through the union. However, I do agree that AAPS should be looking into a more local private contractor.


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 8:23 a.m.

"Ann Arbor school district custodians would take a pay cut of between $2 per hour to $6 per hour if the district decides to outsource its custodial work, district administrators said tonight." This seems egregious and flat out mean given the current economic state in our county. I have to agree with Moose and others, we are burning the candle at both ends and will be left with nothing.


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 8:14 a.m.

I'm not sure I support privatization or out-sourcing, but if it comes down to that, isn't there a local group we could contract with? Don't we want to keep the money here/local? Paying for jobs elsewhere to manage this service when we need jobs and money here just seems crazy.


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 8:08 a.m.

In response to Ram, how are the students going to be served without good professional local dedicated employees? I guarantee you some corporation in Illinois is not as interested in our young people (because they are interested in profit margin only - not the welfare of human beings)as our own local dedicated staff. What part of PUBLIC education are we not getting? Corporations/private companies are for the business segment, not public education.

Life in Ypsi

Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 8:03 a.m.

Why can't the district cut pay and raise insurance rates so the staff can remained employed by A2 schools? It's sad people are losing their jobs, but perhaps if the employees went to higher insurance premiums like the rest of us, they might not be in this situation.


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 8 a.m.

Cuts are neccesary. But this seems a brutal cut to the lowest paid employees while adminstrators are taking much less of a cut and, so far, the teachers none. How many of these hardworking folks will lose houses if this plan goes through? An equivalent budget cut to the teachers pay package should be implemented. The Union can suffer reductions in pay packages or staff.


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 7:53 a.m.

Being in attendance at last night's meeting really made me aware of just how much the staff effected by the proposed privatization will lose. Numbers were quoted and staff will lose approximately 15,000 a year plus all sick time. We are hard working folk who are some of the lowest paid in the district. I understand having to make cuts but this is deplorable! Are ALL the administrative people taking cuts like this too? What a slap in the face to all of the workers affected when a privatization presentation is followed up with a $1.7 million "beautification" project at Pioneer!


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 7:44 a.m.

I hope the school board keeps in mind that they have an obligation to serve the students and community members, not the employees


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 7:42 a.m.

Nothing motivates staff like a pay cut! Good luck having clean spaces for the children.


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 6:36 a.m.

Our continued race to the bottom, and the folks who get it in the neck are working people.


Thu, Apr 15, 2010 : 3:39 a.m.

This is the thanks these folks get for the years of dedicated service. Where is council 25, and why are they not all over this??? AAPS, why MUST you go out of state to contract this out?


Wed, Apr 14, 2010 : 10:59 p.m.

It's interesting how I keep reading about how communities in Texas keep investing in their schools, contrast that to teacher cuts & gimics in ours. At what point are we going to realize that cutting school funding impacts whether people want to live in the community?


Wed, Apr 14, 2010 : 10:19 p.m.

David, Thank you for posting the details. What are we doing, privatizing with a company in Illinois? Keep our money local. Originally, the administration said that the privatization would keep wages and benefits equal, although workers would lose their retirement. Now, we see the truth. It is very clear that the custodians end up bearing the brunt of cuts. I believe that everyone in the district should share cuts equally, and if you are opposed to this privatization, please join me in emailing the Board of Education and letting them know that: