Superintendent Hutchings proposes custodian plan

Superintendent Hutchings proposes custodian plan

By Cody Mello-Klein |

After months of public outcry, a plan is in the works to address the 30 Alexandria City Public Schools custodians who could lose their jobs with the passage of the fiscal year 2020 budget.

Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D., proposed the plan, which involves salvaging 20 custodian positions and decreasing ACPS’ substitute teaching funding, during the May 9 school board meeting.

Without the new plan, ACPS’ FY2020 proposed budget involves outsourcing the positions of 30 custodians with 20 years of experience or less to private contractors. At the core of the issue is the school board’s decade-long promise to establish an attrition plan that would give custodians the opportunity to retire and ACPS the ability to fill those positions with private contract workers.

Over the last few months, teachers, parents, students and other members of the ACPS community have joined custodial staff at school board meetings, offering emotional testimonies about the potential layoffs to what they perceived as little response from Hutchings or school board members. The school board meeting on May 9, at first, seemed like it would follow suit.

“I’m hurt, I’m afraid, I’m sad not knowing what’s going to happen not only to me but to my family,” Sharena Hollins, a 17-year ACPS custodian, said.

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After five other custodians spoke during the budget public hearing section of the meeting, Hutchings moved his report to the school board up in the meeting agenda.

“I felt compelled to have the opportunity to speak while we had some of our custodians still here today,” Hutchings said. “… I need people to understand that our custodians are important to us and we wanted to make sure that we were doing everything in our power to be respectful.”

Hutchings said he had been listening to the public about this issue and had crafted a plan that could address the concerns he had been hearing. In Hutchings’ proposed plan, ACPS would outsource 10 custodians with five years of experience or less, instead of outsourcing 30 custodians of 20 years of experience or less.

Dr. Gregory Hutchings (Photo Credit: Susan Hale Thomas/ACPS)

“That will still afford an opportunity for the custodians with less than five years an opportunity to still work with the company that we select,” Hutchings said. “That will also afford an opportunity for those custodians to still receive the severance package that we have discussed throughout this entire budgetary process. And it will allow us to really get at how do we work with our custodians over the next few years and how do we make this work for both parties.”

The new plan would also affect the budget in a significant way, Hutchings said.

Putting all 30 custodians back into the current budget would result in a budget gap of around $500,000. However, putting 20 custodian positions back into the budget and contracting 10 positions would decrease the budget gap to roughly $180,000, Hutchings said.

The difference in budget gaps ultimately comes down to the salaries, fringe benefits and required sup- plies associated with a given number of custodians. According to ACPS budget data, the subtotal of all costs – salaries, fringe benefits, required supplies – for putting 30 custodians into the budget would be $2,153,842 compared to $1,801,790 for 20 custodians. These numbers were measured against the total cost of contracts and sev- erance pay for both 30 and 20 custodial positions – $1,653,849 and $1,621,697 respectively – in order to calculate the budget gaps.

To balance the gap, Hutchings proposed that the approximately $180,000 be taken out of the substitute teaching fund outlined in the FY2020 budget. After the reduction, the substitute fund would be $2,707,278.

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“Maybe we can offset some of those costs by having central office administrators or central office staff who have teacher licenses give one day per quarter to volunteer to substitute a class … including the superintendent,” Hutchings said.

Although the proposed plan to offset the decreased substitute fund comes out of a budget-based decision, there are potential systemic benefits as well, Hutchings said.

“So that’s four times out of the year that I get to substitute a classroom, which I think would be nice because I think that we need to have a better understanding of what our teachers experience every single day,” Hutchings said.

Hutchings also detailed the operational implications this plan could create, like shifting custodians’ work locations.

For school board member Michelle Rief, the proposed plan is the first step in finding a solution that will reward both custodians and the school system.

“My personal view is the Superintendent’s proposal is a good start and I look forward to discussing it with my colleagues at our work session on May 23,” Rief said in a statement. “I’m concerned that asking any custodians to work for a private contractor will result in reduced compensation for these employees. I also believe outsourcing can lead to reduced quality and accountability and I hope we can reverse this trend.”

Hutchings and the school board will continue to discuss the proposed plan, as well as the FY2020 budget, ahead of the school board’s budget adoption on June 6.