Last October, the support
staff union for the Holland Public Schools filed an unfair labor complaint
against the Holland school district in an ongoing battle over privatization of
school custodial services, according to The Holland Sentinel.
In the complaint, the Holland
Educational Support Personnel Association made several allegations related to
the district’s talks with the union prior to the school board’s recent decision
to contract with a private firm for custodial services. "We charged them (the
board) with refusal to bargain in good faith, and we claim that they took action
to split our bargaining unit apart by telling members of the bargaining unit
that this didn’t really affect them and they didn’t have to be concerned about
it," Paul Kirschner, a Michigan Education Association representative, told The
Jim Sullivan, Holland’s
assistant superintendent of finance and personnel, told The Sentinel that the
district found "most of the accusations to be groundless or without merit." He
also denied a union allegation that a food services employee was verbally
reproached by a supervisor for making comments during a school board meeting
that discussed privatization.
The district had proposed
privatizing custodial work in the midst of a financial downturn.
Kirschner claimed that after
the school board informed the support personnel staff of the board’s desire to
privatize, Holland Educational Support Personnel Association was given only a
week to change the board’s mind. The MEA was called in to assess what its
regional representative deemed a "critical" situation.
Sullivan told The Holland
Sentinel on Oct. 28 that he was not surprised at the steps the union had taken.
"Their role is to protect their members," he said, "My role is to advocate for
the school district."
Sullivan’s proposal to save as
much as $700,000 for the school district had been widely and publicly criticized
by HESPA as only a quick-fix solution. James Forster, the president of HESPA,
said his union had been lobbying for the opportunity to make a counteroffer.
The school board said this
opportunity was granted, but Forster told The Sentinel that the board had been
unresponsive: "We have made some offers — little pieces of the pie but when you
add them up you could get a full slice — but when we brought those up, they
weren’t very receptive."
Concerns about the safety of
contracting with a private firm have been raised by the union. Union fliers have
warned that privatization carries uncertainties that could end up harming the
school and its students in an attempt to reduce expenses. They question whether
the district will have a firm knowledge of the personal history of the private
personnel, especially regarding criminal activity.
In response, School Board
President Bob Carlson has stated, "One of (the contractors) does even more for
background checks than what we presently do with our people."
According to The Holland
Sentinel, the district has lost 200 students per year for the past two years. A
continuation of this trend would produce a $2.5 million deficit in the district
by June 2006.
As of December, privatization
of custodial services has been implemented, according to Carlson. The union has
since withdrawn the unfair labor complaint as part of a settlement that was
reached in order to finalize negotiations over teacher contracts. Carlson also
said that although the exact cost reduction from privatization has not yet been
calculated, the district has indeed realized the savings originally projected.
The district has received many positive comments about the new services, and
very few complaints.
Carlson told Michigan
Education Report that the district will focus on assuring a quality educational
program and improving existing programs to market themselves and increase
enrollment. He also noted, "We will continue to look at ways to become more
efficient in our operations as a way to decrease costs."
This story is an expanded
version of an article from a November 2004 issue of Michigan Education Digest
based on source stories from The Holland Sentinel.