Custodians: An important part of the schools

Megan R.

Staff Writer

As students fill the halls on the first day of school, something at Woodstock feels different. Could it be new teachers, a different paint job, or maybe just the thrill of seniors as they enter their last first day of high school; no, there is a much more subtle change walking the halls of Woodstock High. At a board meeting in July, the privatization of the Cherokee County custodial positions was formalized. Privatization is when the same employees work in the same location, just through a different employer. Instead of being employees of CCSD, the custodians now receive their paychecks from Aramark-a widely used services company.

The plummeting economy has had a detrimental effect on schools all over the U.S. Cherokee County School District alone has lost over two million dollars in funding in the last four years. It has been forced to cut 500 jobs inside the schools, along with 15% of administrative positions and 52 jobs in transportation. In total, the district has had to cut $23.1 million in salaries and implement 21 furlough days. The loss of jobs has not only increased the unemployment rate, but it has led to crowded classrooms and buses. At the board meeting in July, the issue of the budget was addressed. Few solutions were left, as the board has exhausted many options already: cutting jobs, increasing furlough days and stuffing classrooms to maximum capacity. In a vote six to one, the privatization of the custodial positions was made official. A small group of board members had done extensive research to find the best possible company in which to outsource the custodians. Aramark was hired to provide custodial services to the county. Those current employees were given notice of this change and the option to join this new company or find work elsewhere.  The district superintendent, Dr. Frank Petruzielo assured that Aramark will employ “all 231 custodial positions, which also includes insurance benefits.” Though this decision has relieved some of the financial burden, no one is happy that it was necessary.

Members of the school board state that this was not an easy decision. After a great deal of consideration, they felt this was the only option available without putting all 231 people out of work. In an interview with Cherokee Ledger News, board member Ms. Patsy Jordan states, “It’s about 39,000 students and teaching and learning. We always have to go with what affects the kids the least.” The faculty and staff of CCSD are working as hard as they can to make this transition as painless as possible. “You may see me in the lunchroom picking up trash, and helping clean up. I am just doing my part,” said Dr. Paul Weir, WHS principal. This goes for most of the staff on lunch duty. Aramark is also working to add more custodians into the county and has invested in better equipment to keep the schools clean.

Though none of the custodians literally lost their jobs, they have suffered due to this transition. One of the major effects of outsourcing was the salary cuts. Prior to outsourcing, custodians earned, on average, $16-$23 per hour. Head custodians now earn $10-$12 an hour and regular custodians even less. In addition to this, most custodians are no longer year-round workers. Not only are they suffering an extreme pay cut, but they only receive it ten months out of the year. It is expected that during these two months, custodians will be able to receive health benefits from the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) and federal unemployment handouts.

Few students noticed this change the first month of school, but as September break approached, they could not help but notice a difference. A group of girls recall that at one point the bathroom outside of the lunchroom was without soap for almost three weeks; however, they also admit that no teacher or custodian was made aware of this by any of the students. Little things similar to this have been noticed over the past few months. Many students noticed that the head custodian Mr. Anthony Cascello, known as “Big Tony” by the kids and staff was suddenly missing. Several students recall “Big Tony” and another custodian participating in the Etowah versus Woodstock pep rally two years ago. “The custodians are part of the school family; they kind of know us, and we kind of know them. It’s sad to see some of them go when they have worked here for so long,” says Leigha Woodard, junior. Yet not all of the signs of privatization were negative. Several new custodians are working at Woodstock High School and seem just as friendly as the previous ones. Naturally, a change such as privatization results in different employees working different hours and likely different places. This transition, like any other, will take time to adjust to. However, Dr. Weir anticipates that “After the dust settles, I think things will get better.” In the past two months new custodians have been added to the school, and no incidents like the soap shortage have occurred.

Even in the hardest of circumstances, Woodstock High School as well as CCSD work to protect the students and their education in every situation. “[Outsourcing] allowed the school system to stay focused on our number one mission- the kids. When it comes down to the last dollar, it’s about the kids,” explains Dr. Weir. In the past few years, many have done an excellent job shielding students from the effects of the suffering budget, but perhaps it is time for “the kids” to remove the blinders and help out. Simply cleaning up trash at the lunch table or in the bathrooms would make a difference. Kendra Harris, junior, says, “If we need to donate soap to help out, then we should. Or if they want us to let them know when stuff runs out in bathrooms, we can do that too!” As Thanksgiving approaches, take time to thank the custodians and staff for all they do to ensure a great education for students.

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