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School board addresses custodial outsourcing

 

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent 

  In the wake of the Henry County Board of Education’s April 8 vote to outsource custodial services (see story in April 10 edition of the Times), the discussion has continued throughout the county among the affected employees, parents of public school students and school system officials regarding the long-term effects of this decision.

  The school board sent a letter to the editor that was published in the April 17 edition of the Times, reiterating how difficult the move was for board members, but one they felt was absolutely necessary. The system expects to save $4.7 million over the next three years under the new agreement with SSC Service Solutions that would take effect July 1.

  In the letter, the board pointed out that $156 million in state funding cuts and $42 million in reduced property tax revenue over the past 10 years have had a devastating impact on the school system, and a number of measures have already been implemented to counteract this decline – employees taking 17-21 furlough days over the past four years, class sizes going up and school/central office staff sizes going down. Also, the board expects benefit costs for non-certified employees to increase $7 million in the next three years.

  Decisions such as the custodial outsourcing “are most difficult. Each of our staff members in the school system is valued and appreciated. Unfortunately, fi-nancial realities beyond our control require extraordinary considerations and actions,” the board wrote.

  There has been a great deal of speculation in the community about exactly how current custodial employees will be affected by the switch to SSC this summer. In response to a detailed request for information from the Times, Superintendent Dr. Ethan Hildreth’s office issued a statement covering several key points.

  Times: What compensation will the existing employees receive for their unused sick leave and vacation time?

  Henry County School System (HCSS): For employees who have been with the system five years and have at least 41 days of unused sick leave, these employees will be compensated $15 per day up to 145 days.  This is the only reimbursement policy for sick leave and is outlined in employee handbooks when they start working for the system. Employees are compensated a daily rate for each day of unused vacation time up to a maximum of 20 days.

  Times: If a current employee is offered a job with SSC at a much lower salary and turns it down, will that person be ineligible for unemployment?

  HCSS: That is not up to the school system.  The Department of Labor would make that determination.

  Times: How will their accrued retirement be affected? Will vested employees be able to roll over their retirement money or will they lose it?

  HCSS: Honestly, there are so many different scenarios with this and two different retirement systems to consider options for. In short, they still have the same options that are available to them during their employment. If they are vested, they can leave the money where it is and once they reach the trigger dates/age for withdrawal/payment, they then receive payments like they would if they never left the system. They will not lose any money that is currently in their retirement; it is up to them what they do with it once they aren’t employees of the district.

  Times: How many children of current custodial employees enjoy the standard privilege of crossing district lines? Will they lose that?

  HCSS: A total of 23 children will lose the option to attend the school of a parent’s choice due to a total of 17 custodians not being employed by the district.  However, as long as the custodians are residents of the county and the schools their children currently attend have space under the school choice law (HB 251 and SB 10), they can fill out the appropriate paperwork to apply to remain at these schools.

  Times: You pointed out last month that the current budget for 315 custodial/landscaping employees is $9.2 million for salaries and benefits. Is this the lowest-paid group of full-time employees in the system? What is this year’s budget figure for TOTAL salaries and benefits, and for how many employees?

HCSS: The employees in the district earning the least are paraprofessionals, bus monitors and food service assistants. The budget figure for total salaries and benefits is $264 million (the total budget for the school system is $293 million). We have 6,179 employees in the system – 2,890 are certified and 3,289 are classified.

  Times: How many HCSS employees receive total compensation (salary and benefits) of more than $100,000 per year in the current budget year?

  HCSS: There are 45 employees in the district who have a salary at or above $100,000.  This equals to 0.7% of our overall workforce.  There are 282, or 4.5% of the workforce, earning a total compensation of $100,000 or more.  In order for TOTAL compensation to reach or exceed $100,000, an employee must have a salary of at least $74,000.

 

 

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