School Board splits on outsourcing

Published 10:11 pm Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The superintendent of Suffolk Public Schools will present ways that outsourcing could be explored for an expected vote at November’s School Board meeting.

A pledged fact-finding mission was the outcome at last Thursday’s monthly meeting of board member Linda Bouchard’s attempt to resurrect a proposal narrowly defeated by her colleagues in September.

Bouchard wants administrators to explore outsourcing maintenance and custodial services as a means of providing a 5-percent raise for teachers and assistants exclusively. But Judith Brooks-Buck and Enoch Copeland — in particular — want to stop the bid in its tracks.

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Last Thursday, Brooks-Buck described the “outsource world” she lives in at Virginia State University, where she is a professor.

According to her comments, outsourced custodians do a haphazard job, and Brooks-Buck thus has to clean up herself.

“In my desk drawer to the right … I have cleaning products,” she said. “I have a mop. I have a dustpan. I have all sort of cleaning problems, because it’s outsource world where I live (and) the contract didn’t include moving the furniture.”

She argued against “taking from one group of people” — the district’s maintenance and custodial staff, who would likely lose benefits or their jobs in outsource world — “to give other people some salary increase.”

She also cited a labor dispute in Prince George County after its school division “outsourced” teachers from the Philippines.

Copeland raised the specter of a company with dollar signs in its eyes taking the reins. “Low-income people who need a job, they are going to be the ones pushed out the door,” he said.

“I’m just not in favor of going to the private sector in dealing with school matters at this time.”

Bouchard argued the district exists to educate children, not provide jobs. “Our job is to educate children,” she said, adding the district should be hiring more teachers and “as few support people (as possible), from the superintendent on down.”

She told Brooks-Buck, “I think you are giving some valuable input into the exploration that I’m interested in doing. You are one source of information, but you are not the only source, and I don’t agree with your basic premise.”

Board Chairman Michael Debranski said, “I think we ought to look at it, just for the sake of seeing if it can work.”

Phyllis Byrum said the district needed to be open-minded. “It may not work for Suffolk,” she said. “Me, I don’t really know. … (But) we can’t bury our heads in the sand.”