Custodians take jobs campaign to school board neighbors

Running out of options as their co-workers start to get pink slips, Portland Public Schools custodians have taken to shaming board members who duck responsibility for the layoffs.

On June 13 custodians visited the neighborhood of School Board Chair Julia Brim-Edwards and talked with neighbors about the district's plan to privatize custodial work.

Three days before, 42 custodians received notice that their last day of work will be June 21. Forty more are expected to be let go July 1, and 54 in August. That would total 136 layoffs, leaving 209 custodians remaining, or roughly two per building.

School Board members say their hand is forced by the $36 million in cuts they expect to have to make because the State Legislature has not yet made it a priority to fund schools adequately. But custodians point the figure closer to home - they say the district has sufficient discretionary funds to prevent the layoffs, and charge that the district is not bargaining in good faith to replace the union contract that is due to expire June 30.

Instead, the district plans to contract out to private firms the work custodians now do, starting with companies that employ the disabled.

Brim-Edwards wasn't home when the custodians came by, but numerous neighbors and passers-by showed sympathy for their cause. Leaders of Local 140 say more visits to the neighborhoods of school board members and administrators are planned.

After getting word of the union action, Brim-Edwards sent a press release to the media saying because of the Legislature, the school board has been put in a position of "having to make miserable choices."

She said that when looking to cut the school budget the choices came down to increasing class sizes, closing schools, cutting teacher and staff pay and benefits, shortening the school year and cutting back on custodial staff and services.

"Because we were being forced to cut an additional $36 million from our budget, we did all of the above. And, sadly, more cuts may be coming," she said.

Brim-Edwards, who is married to State Treasurer Randall Edwards, said custodians, teachers, administrators, business people and community members "need to focus their anger and energies on the real issue. The state is not adequately funding schools. Our energies need to be focused on the decision-makers in the state who have the power and authority to stop the cuts and even restore previous cuts."

June 21, 2002 issue

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