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Published: Wednesday, 6/23/2010

Blissfield schools cut costs of support staff

BY ALIYYA SWABY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BLISSFIELD - School officials have given support staff the option of working more hours, while also reducing pay and scaling back health care plans in some cases.

At a meeting Monday, the Blissfield Board of Education finalized the decision to allow its support staff - many of whom work two to six hours per day - to take on additional hours in different capacities next year.

Those affected include transportation, custodial, food service, and maintenance staff and building aides.

The district is trying to find ways to close its $1.6 million budget deficit and avoid hiring new employees.

The board has been considering the move since October and is negotiating with the teacher's union for further options.

Chief Financial Officer Dan Garno called the decision a "creative solution" that he said would allow some employees to increase their pay.

Employees will have to go through the standard application process to take on additional hours.

"If there's a bus driver who brought the kids to school in the morning, he could then … work in food services, and then take the kids home," he said. "It would be an eight-hour day."

But for some custodial workers and bus drivers, the changes mean lower pay.

Those two groups are paid a fixed amount of money per week, while the other affected workers are paid $9 to $13 an hour on the district pay scale.

Mr. Garno said it would have been difficult for employees to transfer between the two pay scales and be paid the appropriate amount.

The board decided to apply the district pay scale to all workers by breaking down the fixed amount to an hourly wage and taking years of service into account.

In late April, 86 support staff employees were surveyed and 60 said they wanted to work up to eight hours in different departments next school year, Mr. Garno said.

But not everyone has the option of working more hours to make up the pay difference.

Tom Kasefang, Blissfield's director of transportation and facilities next year, said many custodial workers are already working eight hours and working more would not be possible.

He said a few people who would be paid less spoke out against the decision at the board meeting Monday.

"An employee who was there for 27 years addressed the board and didn't understand why he had to take lower pay," he said.

The board's vice president, Larry Bausman, said he understood why people were upset but he said the alternative was cutting more staff.

"I don't know what the future holds for support staff," he said. "We wanted to affect the student learning environment the least."

Mr. Garno said the board gave custodial staff and bus drivers three options - privatizing services, providing services through a third party, or remaining directly under the district with lower pay.

He said the majority chose to remain district employees, and those who did not want to were referred to companies in other districts.

The bus drivers also were given a premium of $1.50 per hour for the time they spend driving, and any other support staff who drive buses also will receive that premium, he said.

But because these changes are still more expensive than privatization, he said the board decided to give custodial and maintenance workers reduced, single-subscriber health care plans next year and is not guaranteeing health insurance for future years.

Mr. Kasefang said many of the support staff wanted to remain district employees because they enjoy the small community.

"They take a lot of pride in their work," he said.

Contact Aliyya Swaby at:

aswaby@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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