NORWALK, Conn. – Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) ripped the Norwalk Board of Education in a Thursday emailed press release, charging the BOE with “shrouding its outsourcing efforts in secrecy.”
Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons fired back, saying there has been no secrecy and calling the union’s attempt at involving itself in the process “preposterous.”
Council 4 represents Norwalk school custodians, maintainers and security officers.
The outsourcing was discussed at the June 18 BOE meeting, where some members of the board complained of being “blindsided” by the plan.
At the meeting, Norwalk Public Schools Superintendent Manny Rivera said three janitorial vacancies at Columbus Magnet School and three or four vacancies at Jefferson Elementary School will be filled by an outside company. Chief Financial Officer Rich Rudl said a company will be selected in a Request for Proposals (RFP) process.
“For those two schools alone it would be $160,000 less than what we currently spend,” Rudl said. “If the entire school district were to be outsourced, which we can’t do because we cannot lay an employee off, it would be close to $2 million in savings.”
According to the union’s Thursday complaint, Norwalk Public Schools Director of Facilities and Maintenance William Hodel conducted a walk-through of Columbus and Jefferson schools on Wednesday, July 16, with representatives from several private contractors interested in bidding on custodial work currently performed by members of AFSCME Local 1042.
Hodel refused to allow union representatives to observe the walk-through because they “were not invited,” the release states, and that the event was a closed meeting. Hodel also told the union to take its complaint to the human resources department, the release said.
“What is the Norwalk Board of Education hiding?” asked Matthew Brokman, legislative and political representative for Council 4, who was present at Columbus School. “Norwalk public schools are not private corporations. The public has a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent.”
“The BoE sets policy – it doesn’t manage day to day operations of the school system (which would be classic ‘micromanagement’),” BOE Chairman Mike Lyons wrote in a late-night email response. “So the BoE hasn’t been ‘secret’ about building walk-throughs and the like – we literally aren’t involved.”
Brokman was accompanied July 16 by two veteran school employees who are members and officers of Local 1042.
“We intend to take aggressive action to protect the students, the schools and the custodians from the Board’s ill-considered and irresponsible action,” he said.
Union spokesman Larry Dorman said he has a problem with the BOE excluding “public participation” in the process.
“To close the decision-making process is troubling to me,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s insulting to the workers, to the residents and the taxpayers.”
“We’ve seen this play before, aa number of times, unfortunately.”
Lyons said the union has no business being involved in dealings between the schools and outside contractors.
“The administration is carrying out its right to outsource custodial services by attrition, something that had been discussed publicly at multiple board meetings, so the administration hasn’t been ‘secretive,’ either,” Lyons said. “Nor does the union have any contractual or other right to accompany private bidders on walk-throughs. That is a management prerogative and the suggestion that the union should be involved in it is preposterous.”