Picketers Protest Privatization

By: Tony Tagliavia Email
By: Tony Tagliavia Email

Many of the same faces have been greeting drivers this week at the busiest intersection in Eaton Rapids.

They are the faces of school custodians, protesting the district's decision to look into hiring a company to take over maintenance in the schools.

"I don't think it's right to have a company come in and taking over," said Andy Gemalsky, one of the picketers out Friday morning.

Gemalsky has been working in the schools for 29 years. He and others point out that so many of the staff who keep up the schools live in and are a part of the community.

Now he could be out of a job.

School board President Jon Althouse says it's nothing personal: the district is looking at a budget shortfall of $1.4 to $1.7 million dollars.

And, he says, it has run out of things to cut.

"Now we're down to cutting things like busing, sports, music, closing a school -- which we've put off for a year -- and now, privatization," Althouse said.

Privatization saves money in part because companies typically give less generous benefits than the schools. East Lansing leaders say their privatized maintenance has forced the district to do more with less, but it's saved a significant amount of money.

Examples like that prompted Eaton Rapids to ask outside firms to send in bids. Althouse predicts the move could save as much as $500,000.

"That's a substantial savings against the shortfall," he said.

But the picketers hope the honks and waves of support will translate to a different decision at district headquarters.

"We just want the community to come to our school board and help us out," Gemalsky said. The board meets May 23 at the high school.

The board president says the bids he's seen are competitive, but the district hasn't made a decision.

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