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Emotions Run High As School Committee Outsources Custodians

Tensions between ESP staff, teachers and even between school committee members mounted during Monday night's meeting.

Significant changes to the . In an emotion-filled meeting, the committee voted to outsource its custodial department (laying off 26 employees) and denied an arbitrator’s award for the support staff, instead making unilateral changes to group.

Sixteen speakers took to the microphone during citizens’ comments: most speakers were custodians and ESP (Educational Support Professionals) staff. Among the speakers, the message was unanimous: support ESP and don’t outsource.

“I have been hit, kicked, punched, shoved, bit, spat on, threatened with physical violence and verbally demeaned by some of the district’s most difficult students,” said Nancy Ciccone, a paraprofessional at .

According to Ciccone, her hourly wage will drop to $10 an hour under the proposed cuts from Superintendent Phil Auger. Ciccone also pleaded the committee to "not balance the budget on the backs of the lowest paid workers."

“It is very hard to live on what we make as paraprofessionals,” said Stephani Webbr, a special education paraprofessional at . “Now you want to cut our life insurance, sick and personal days and a zero-percent salary increase.”

Though citizens’ comments ended after an hour, it wasn’t the last the committee would hear from the audience. ESP employees and other citizens yelled out at committee members during its voting. The interruptions prompted committee members Richard Welch, Larry Ceresi and John Boscardin to exchange words with certain speakers during the committee’s turn to speak on the matter.

Committee members weren’t just interrupted by citizens, but by fellow colleagues at the committee table. Boscardin’s initial comments were cut short by Bill Mudge, who repeatedly asked Auger what the school department’s deficit was during Boscardin's statements. Mudge’s microphone was eventually muted by Committee Chair Kimberly Page.

Mudge would also be the first member to make a motion on the ESP votes, moving to accept the arbitrator’s contract award. The motion went against the recommendation of Auger who said that the disparity between the concessions in the award and what the department would need to balance this year’s budget was too large. The arbitrator’s award would have delivered $621,000 in savings. (In an interview with Auger on Monday prior to the meeting, Auger said the new contract would need to garner about $600,000 in savings for the district to balance its budget.)

However, according to Auger, the lion’s share of that savings (about $290,000) came from increasing ESP employees’ health insurance cost share from four percent to 15 percent. Auger and staff had already factored that increase into their budget calculations.

Mudge’s motion to pass the ESP’s award from the arbitrator was shot down 5-2 (with only Melvoid Benson casting the other supporting vote). After Mudge’s subsequent motion to adjourn the meeting was also shot down 5-2, he left the meeting before the committee voted on the remaining items – including the unilateral changes to the ESP’s contract and the termination of 26 custodians.

The committee voted to award a bid to GCA to privatize the district’s custodial department and will plan to award the contract at its meeting Tuesday night. Though the staff got the axe, GCA has made a verbal agreement to hire all of North Kingstown’s current custodians as long as they pass a BCI check. The custodians will be rehired at the company’s “enhanced wage.”

Though the committee agreed 4-2 (Benson and Dick Welch opposing) to grant the paraprofessionals a one-percent pay increase (up from the superintendent’s recommendation to freeze salaries), it also eliminated life insurance for ESP, cut three sick days and one personal day and established new buyback rates for employees who opted out of health care. (Those new rates are now $2,500 for family and $1,200 for individuals.)

Employees who work fewer than 30 hours per work will no longer be eligible to receive health care through the school department. (Formerly, the cutoff was 20 hours.) The committee also authorized the hiring of 12 part-time employees to replace six full-time positions – a move that will save the district approximately $198,000.

Superintendent Phil Auger’s original recommendations for cuts to ESP would have saved the school department nearly $600,000. Due to changes to the recommendations by committee members (including the one-percent pay raise and decision to raise health care cost share to 15 percent instead of 20), the committee will need to make $215,000 worth of cuts at its Tuesday night meeting in order to balance the fiscal 2012 budget before June 30 when the budget years ends.

melissa June 27, 2012 at 11:48 AM
but we will keep food services that lose money every year and give raises to principals and administration
NK WATCH June 27, 2012 at 02:14 PM
Melissa......if you've been following what's going on, unlike the Halley days the admin pays were frozen for two years and their healthcare co-pay was moved to 25%. You are regurgitating retoric that you've heard through the town gossip rather than stating facts
MeanE June 27, 2012 at 03:04 PM
@Watch - If you've been following along, and we all know that you have, then why is food services not being farmed out like the janitors? Let's see the new Director of Pupil services will make $110,000.00 instead of the $102,000.00 that was proposed. I believe that insurance is around $15,000.00 per employee for the school district. Her co-pay will be $3,750.00 or 3% of her pay. A Para who makes $15,000.00 will have a co-pay of $2,250.00 or 15% of their pay. That admin can live quote comfortably off of $106,250.00. How is that Para going to live off of $12,750.00? Obviously the Director of Pupil services is highly educated and from all accounts very talented and very well liked. However, an $8,000.00 raise was necessary to get her, when Para's who are also college educated and extremely important to the welfare of the NK school system are being nickeled an dimed to death. How much would it cost the taxpayers to send all of the special needs students to Groden or another private school? Think about it for a second!
Govstench June 28, 2012 at 01:10 AM
The one big cloud that continues to hang over this town is if the union lawsuit in Providence succeeds. If NK has to make additional payments to the MERS program, you will see even deeper cuts. This is not pretty and is far from over. These people can scream all they want but when there is no dough Joe, that's it. The school department must hold the line on the spending and a few of those administrators could also be let go after their contracts are up to save some on those triple digit salaries. There is still much fat to trim off and if that food staff is still there, that too can be outsourced. Again, it's not pretty and more blood will be on the floor before this is all over. The spending has to be cut!
MeanE June 28, 2012 at 01:09 PM
@ Govstench - Agreed, If the union succeeds, the entire state will be in trouble. My problem is the SC is holding the line on certain employees and not others.

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