Current/Recent Reading List

04 May 2007

Big 'uns and Little 'uns

School systems, that is. It has always amazed me how my school system, a mere 50 miles from gigantic (relatively speaking) Wake County/Raleigh, is SO on the opposite end of the spectrum, in its problems and day-to-day issues, from the Wake County district. And yet, as in much of the country, both areas share this: constant anxiety and trauma revolving around school issues. Let's look at the last couple of weeks, starting with the Big Guys in Wake.

1. Yesterday a judge ruled that the Wake school board cannot make a year-round school schedule mandatory for thousands of students next year. The board has argued that this move was necessary to best accomodate a student population that, thanks to a constant uber-population boom in the county, continues to expand in huge numbers. The board is now meeting to determine how to proceed. One option that some of them swear is inevitable is to put some elementary kids on "shift schedules", whereby some would go to school from 7:00 to 1:30, and others from 2:00 to 8:00. Since I have no dog (well, actually no child) in this fight, it is easy for me to boldy predict that such schedules will never happen. Truthfully, I doubt they will (you want to talk about PISSING PEOPLE OFF!), but if I lived, or taught, in Wake County I would be darned nervous.

Soon we may have to add "schools" to the infamous list of taboo dinner-table topics previously restricted (in general) to "religion" and "politics".

2. And now for something completely different, let's check out things in Ruralville. You know, I wouldn't trade my Southern heritage with anyone's, but that doesn't mean the old "local yokels" way of doing things in small Southern communities can't be severely embarrassing. Before I give you a story excerpt, from which you can draw your own conclusions (and especially if you are a Southerner, I expect you will at least chuckle), let me just point out that my school is filthy. FILTHY! We have two janitors who are sweet but past their primes, and who manage to only empty the trash and do a quick sweep through our rooms each day. The sweeping does not include getting in corners, or under teachers' desks, so dust bunnies abound. We get one mop and wax over the summer, and no dusting. Teachers routinely clean their own rooms to make up the deficit (well, some teachers do - ahem). So, the principals of the county decided to push the issue with the superintendent, who in turn was asked by the school board to look into contracting out our janitorial services. Now, read with delight (slightly altered by moi):

It was a night filled with emotion, confusion, confrontation and, in the end, victory for the more than 40 _______ County Schools custodians, as the ________ County Board of Education voted to reject privatization of custodial services Monday night.

After it asked superintendent Dr. ________to provide a cost comparison a few months back, he recommended the board approve SCC Service Solutions Monday night because of the companies “willingness” to work with and employ all the current ________County custodial employees.

With a standing-room only crowd in the central office auditorium, over 30 custodians, their fate, they said, hanging in the balance, listened as the school board prepared to vote .

“This is not just saving money,” Superintendent ________ assured the audience. “Because if it were, we would contract the services out; this was about the principals and the board asking me to check into this, and that is what I did ... SCC Service Solutions offered the best product and offered all of our current employees jobs.”

Custodians began the meeting by delivering impassioned pleas to the board for their livelihood.

“I love my job here,” said custodian ______________. “We are the eyes and ears of the school system, and a lot of times we are first responders to your children’s needs.”

Custodian G____________ followed. “I don’t want to lose my job,” she told the board. “I don’t understand how going to privatization will change things for the better. I hope and pray that the board considers what you are doing very carefully and look at this a little deeper.”

Perhaps the most thought-provoking commentary came from custodian E______.

“There is more involved than just a decision,” he said. “There is so much at stake here tonight. The decision you will make will be a decision that will effect so many lives, so many homes ... What will we do? Privatization is not going to save _______ County anything. People that are not working will have to get aid and funding from the county; it just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever”

Although Superintendent ___________ explained that he was sympathetic to the custodians and their plight, he still had to present his findings to the board.

“A lot of the things that were said here tonight, I agree with,” he said. “But the fact is that our custodial staff is still severely undermanned. If someone is out, we cannot fill that position, and the work does not get done. You know, these are hard decisions to make, but they have to be made in the best interest of the school system. We have to look at this and keep moving forward. The principals were unanimous in their decision (for privatization), and the board asked me to look at it, so I did. Some bids were lower, but SCC Service Solutions offered the best for our current employees.”

With that said, he recommended the board approve the proposal from SCC Service Solutions for the 2007-08 school year.

Not one board member made the motion to accept.

“In light of what we have heard tonight, I think that we really need to sit down and take a closer look at what this will do to our workers — I want to make a motion that we table this issue until the next meeting,” board member T__________said.

The crowd erupted with “no’s.”

With no one seconding S_______’s motion, board member R________ unexpectedly asked that the board approve the recommendation, to a stunned audience. One custodian in the crowd cried, “No, No ... Oh no.”

As chairman N___________ asked for the motion to be seconded, board member D____ W_____ lashed out at the board.

“I would like to say, I think that we are being asked to take a philosophical position on this. In that sense, if we approve this, what would happen if you are gone next year and we have a new superintendent who decides to cancel the contract? We never know what is going to happen next — the cafeteria people are low paid too. We have got to understand the views and fears that our custodians face with this decision. How would we feel if it was done to us ... I was always taught from the Bible, do unto others as you would have done onto you — I just cannot support this.”

The crowd erupted in applause.

A visibly stunned superintendent quickly countered. “Ms. W_____, this is not about me. If the board doesn’t want to support this, that is fine. We need to take a look at what is best for our school system ...”

W_______ shot back. “Our seven board members are evaluated every four years by _________ County voters, no matter what. The custodians should each be evaluated too. If they are not doing their job, they need to be terminated.”

Again, W__________’s comments were greeted with rousing applause.

“Ms. W_______,” said the superintendent, “I am not saying that they are not doing a good job — it is not about that. It still doesn’t hide the fact that we are severely undermanned. If this board is willing to take local money, then we can do that too.”

W_____ shot back again at him. “Five thousand dollars in our budget for school equipment doesn’t pay for a lot of buffers,” she said sarcastically. “I look at it like my house — if I don’t have tools to work with, it won’t be clean. All I am saying is give them a chance to do a good job.”

The superintendent reiterated that it wasn’t about the performance of the current custodial staff, it was about getting more man hours to help the school look cleaner.

“I would like to say that this was never about the performance of the workers,” said board member M________. “There was a lot of miscommunication about that. The board was looking out for getting more man hours in the schools. We appreciate the hard work and the commitment that you have; you are doing a great job. It was about getting the help. We were concerned about you being overworked.”

At that point, W______ made a motion to have Hobb’s recommendation rejected, again to rousing applause.

Inexplicably, R______, who previously asked to have Hobb’s recommendation approved, seconded her motion.

It was unanimous.

After the decision, the custodians gathered outside to celebrate in prayer.

“Lord, thank you Jesus,” said longtime custodial employee A__________. “I just want to thank the board and Mrs. W________ for thinking about us, and thank the Lord for being with us tonight. From the beginning, we prayed on this. He has been with us all the way and He showed us tonight that our family will stay together.”

Custodian W_________. “This is truly a family,” she said. “We came together and got through it together. God led us.”

There you have it. Emotionalism? Check. Feckless board members swayed this way and that? Check. Dubious Bible-thumping from a politician? Check. Racial/virtue pandering from a board member famous for being foul-mouthed, rude, and ruthless? Check. Continuation of dirty schools? Check.

And don't think that the kids don't notice.

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