August 28, 2012

"Education Support Professionals" Block School Opening In North Kingstown

Marc Comtois

In June, the North Kingstown School Committee voted to privatize the union jobs of 26 custodians. Twenty of the twenty-six were re-hired by the private company--GCA--that was brought in to take over.

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.”

The committee also moved to reject the ESP (Education Support Professionals) contract and made substantial changes to its support staffing. 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.

NK School Committe Chair Kimberly Page explained it wasn't an easy decision to privatize. Now, via Bob Plain, we learn that the NK School Committee is--according to the NK school unions--engaging in "economic violence" (gotta love the hyperbole), which is why the NK school unions united in solidarity to close the schools for the sake of, er, 6 jobs. Or maybe there's more to it than that.
Education special interest groups, such as the teachers unions, are experiencing a decline in membership. As Stephen Sawchuck reports in Education Week, “by the end of its 2013–14 budget, NEA [the National Education Association] expects it will have lost 308,000 members and experienced a decline in revenue projected at some $65 million in all since 2010. (The figures are expressed in full-time equivalents, which means that the actual number of people affected is probably higher.)”
Look, it's pretty simple. This is only a little about jobs and mostly about power for unions. They certainly didn't shut down school for "the children." Or is shutting down a school district what we're call "education support" now? (Wait, don't answer that!).

For those who think handing these support services over to contractors will result in diminished quality, well, guess what? If the people of North Kingstown aren't happy with the janitorial services, they can go to School Committee meetings and complain. That's one benefit of hiring a private company to do these services: if NK taxpayers demand better results and they don't happen, they can fire GCS and find someone new. I know, it's amazing but true. It happens all the time in the private sector. Really.

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So kids are now missing school and families have to rearrange their lives because this radical, militant union decided it wasn't making enough money. Tell me again about how this is all for the children and the community.

It would be nice if the custodians could actually decide whether to join and financially support this union. I bet a lot of them don't approve of all this disruption and negative publicity or the outrageous 6-figure salaries of NEARI leadership. Well too bad, Rhode Island isn't a right-to-work state, so they have no choice but to continue paying. Because that is the moral, "progressive" way.

Posted by: Dan at August 28, 2012 10:52 AM

All together now:

It's for the chi-hhhhhilllllll-dren

Posted by: Monique at August 28, 2012 11:49 AM

This explanation is what we parents received today.

Parents of the North Kingstown School Community,

It is unfortunate that the NKESP and NEARI have decided to disrupt school in North Kingstown. The rhetoric, driven by the NEARI state organization, has been disrespectful, completely out of order, and much of it has been simply untrue. On Monday evening, members of the North Kingstown School Committee and I continued to bargain in good faith, we were committed to staying all night if need be, and we made significant concessions on every issue other than our decision to privatize custodial services. As for this issue, we feel that it is best to respectfully agree to disagree and handle the issue in court. Today’s decision to strike doesn’t make this difficult work any easier.

Many have asked about the timing of the phone call to cancel school this morning. Unfortunately, when these actions occur, the administration is forced to wait for picket signs to show up before we can call the day. If I were to call the day last night, the ESP union had plans to reverse the decision and come to work, simply to make the administration look bad. Also, we would then forgo our ability to take legal action to force them back to work tomorrow and the cycle would continue. This group intentionally waited for high school students to actually be on busses before striking. It is a cheap tactic, and unfortunately it holds all of our kids hostage, mine included.

Members of our School Committee and I remain committed to returning as soon as possible to normal conditions. There is a great deal to be positive about in our school community, and we need to start focusing on our kids and getting back to school.

Phil Auger,
Superintendent of North Kingstown Public Schools


Some kids were on busses. The school canceling call came at 6:25 and a number of bus stops were before that time. I can't imagine how the union could think that this would get more parents on their side, especially since these issues existed in June.

"Union officials said they will not ask members to defy a court order. Instead, they hope today’s action will ignite the interest of the people, who may be more persuasive in changing school committee members’ minds that union intermediaries have been."

I doubt it, especially when they play games like what happened this morning. I'm not a fan of unions, but not anti-union. Unfortunately, many unions feel that they can completely ignore supply and demand. With so many families dealing with more work, give-backs, and more job risk, unions won't get a lot of sympathy. Long gone are the days of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. Unions can't have it both ways; security and top pay for any job skill level. They can't get something for nothing forever.

Posted by: SteveH at August 28, 2012 12:20 PM

"Unfortunately, many unions feel that they can completely ignore supply and demand."

Union leadership *can* ignore supply and demand in "closed shop" states like Rhode Island because they don't have right-to-work legislation and therefore teachers and custodians are forced to keep paying dues to them, even when they would rather leave the union and keep their money or seek other representation. If there was a law that members of a community had to pay a restaurant owner $500-1000/year whether they ate at the restaurant or not, how long do you think it would be before the owner lost touch with the actual wants and needs of customers and the rest of the community? So it is with union leadership; they say they represent all the workers, but like the pigs in Animal Farm, they always end up in the farmhouse in the end, representing themselves and helping themselves to huge salaries.

Today I witnessed a screaming match between a union representative in my workplace and a manager. The dispute was that an employee was being asked to attend training during her lunch. The manager offered to allow the employee to take her lunch and make up the hour later. The union representative then accused the manager of retaliating against the employee by making her attend the "extra" hour. My response to this behavior is very simple: unlike in Rhode Island, I have a choice of whether to pay the union in my workplace, so I choose not to. This is a very basic concept, and yet states like Rhode Island continue to get it wrong.

Posted by: Dan at August 28, 2012 1:35 PM
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