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From left, Chelsea Beck, Breanna Boadway and Cody Boadway protest outside Brandon High School along with classmates on Tuesday morning. Photo by Patrick McAbee. (click for larger version)
May 16, 2012 - Brandon Twp.- Students protested in front of Brandon High School Tuesday morning, carrying signs denouncing recent decisions by the school board to privatize custodial services and pink slip 28 teachers.

"I'm standing up for the teachers and bus drivers and janitors," said Casey Boadway, a junior who was joined at the protest by her sister, freshman Breanna, brother Cody, and their parents, Dale and Julie Boadway. "I hope we don't have to get rid of anybody."

Some of the approximately 30 students outside the school May 15 wore T-shirts that read on the front, "No privatization" and on the back, "Count day is coming; count me out."

Whether they will be at school in the district come count day this fall remains to be seen, as well as how many teachers will remain. What is a certainty is that after June 29, the school district will no longer employ its own custodial staff. During a special board meeting May 10, the board voted 5-2 to contract with D.M. Burr of Flint to provide custodial services for the next three years. The move will save the district a projected $250,000 annually while also increasing the number of custodial employees from 18 to 24.

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One of the concerns over privatization has been that the new custodians will be strangers to the kids and the staff will always be changing. Superintendent Lorrie McMahon said the custodians will be assigned to specific buildings with specific shifts so the people working around the students will be consistent. D.M. Burr will be required to perform the same background checks on employees as the district does with their own employees. She expressed the hope that the district's custodians would apply for jobs with D.M. Burr and return.

That seems unlikely.

Randy Carpenter, a custodian with the district for the past 15 years and union steward, said the board offered the custodians $9 per hour to keep their jobs and D.M. Burr is offering about the same— $8.50 to $9 an hour.

"That's a 50 percent pay cut and we took all those cuts (contract concessions) last time," he said. "We flat out told them no. I can't afford to do that with a family to support. They say they have a $1.34 million deficit and have to find cuts somewhere, but I don't understand why they always cut us first and don't take cuts anywhere else. I gotta have a job for my family."

Both McMahon and Board President Kevin McClellan said privatization was necessary due to reduced per-pupil funding from the state and increases in expenses, including a state-mandated increase in retirement funding.

"The board is committed to maintaining our vigilance for the future of our schools and programs by exploring all reasonable methods to support classroom quality," said McClellan in a written statement. "Our actions are guided by the commitment to be at the forefront of educational excellence, preparing our students to be successful, productive citizens."

Transportation may be the next department to be outsourced. The district is currently accepting bids for bus service and bus drivers joined the students in protesting Tuesday, standing next to M-15 as vehicles passed, many honking in support.

"We do not want privatization in our school district because the safety of our children comes first," said Pat Pierce, a bus driver in the district for 16 years who lives in the community and is the mother of a BHS graduate, as well as two more children still attending school here. "Jobs in our community will be lost. We've all raised our families here and are still raising them. There are other areas that cuts can be made, starting with administration. They have to lead by example... We gave up 28 percent of our benefit package two years ago. They keep revisiting the same old story, privatization."

Pierce was joined in protesting by fellow drivers Tami Shahin, Janine Zsifkov, and Claudia Stahl, who all agreed if they lose their jobs, they may move elsewhere, and with them of course, would go their children and the state funding the district receives for these students.

Per-pupil funding is the district's sole source of significant income and cuts from the state and increased expenses have resulted in a projected $1.3 million deficit. Besides the move to privatize to save money, lay-off notices were also given to 28 teachers May 9, during Teacher Appreciation Week. McMahon said the timing was necessary because an agreement with the teachers stipulates that 30-day notice must be given before the end of the contract.

"It was unfortunate we had to notify them last week, it in no way reflects on the appreciation we have for every teacher in our district," said McMahon, who said reports that teachers received lay-off notices in front of their students were false.

"Principals passed out the letters and it was done on their lunch hour or between classes when pupils were not present," she said. "It is hard for principals to meet with each person individually. After school is the same time for everyone, so depending on how many teachers they had to talk to, that's a difficult time."

The district currently plans to reduce 12 teachers in grades K-6, 14 teachers in grades 7-12, and one physical education teacher, as well as one art teacher for K-12. Some of the teachers may be recalled depending on reductions being found elsewhere in the budget or a better financial standing than projected once the state finalizes their budget.

The next school board meeting is set for 6:30 p.m., May 21, at I-TEC, 609 S. Ortonville Road.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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