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Clarenceville, Michigan Picketers Protest Privatization

Karen Smith

Breeann Massie (foreground), Suzi Mullen and Steve Massie protest the Clarenceville school board's July 8 decision to privatize its custodial staff. “This used to be a small school district with a big heart,” Massie said. “Now it's a small school district with no heart.” (Bill Bresler | staff photographer)

Picketers have been protesting the Clarenceville school board's decision to privatize custodial services.

As many as 35 protestors have been outside the board office on Middlebelt south of Eight Mile almost every other day holding up signs reading "No outsourcing," "Stop privatizing," "Honk 2 recall board" and the like.

Among the protestors Wednesday was Breeann Massie, a 2000 Clarenceville High School graduate whose four children will all attend Clarenceville schools this fall. "This used to be a small school district with a big heart," she said. "Now it's a small school district with no heart."

The board voted 4-3 July 8 to award a contract for custodial services to D.M. Burr of Flint, the lowest of nine bidders, in an effort to save $1.2 million over three years. Ten custodians will be laid off July 31.

Assistant Supt. David Bergeron said Friday the district is preparing a request for proposals to privatize transportation services next. "We're still working to put it together. We're progressing toward that," he said, adding it may be ready in as early as two weeks.

However, administrators are also scheduled to bargain Wednesday and Thursday with the MEA unit representing the district's 27 transportation, food services and maintenance employees. Their contract expired June 30.

The board recently adopted a $19.1 million budget for the 2010-11 school year, with a projected deficit of $852,000. The district has 1,800 students.

The protestors plan a recall campaign. Robert Marx, whose wife Lynn is among the custodians being let go, said Wednesday he is awaiting word from the Wayne County Elections Division on how many signatures are needed. Voting for privatizing custodial services were Trustee Cindy Immonen, Secretary Mark Garrison, President Sharon Simpson and Treasurer Matt Boettcher.

Garrison, who said he can't be recalled because his term ends in six months and he isn't seeking re-election, said he understands people disagree with the decision and are upset. "But there's people who do support it and agree with it. Some people have said, ‘Why did it take this long?' They're just not protesting. I understand both sides."

Garrison said he voted in favor of privatizing to keep money in the classrooms. Educating children is the No. 1 priority, he said. "I voted yes because it was in the best interest of the district for the long term," he said.

Simpson, Immonen and Boettcher could not be reached for comment Friday.

Kim Edwards, an executive member of the MEA, which represents the custodians, said the protest is a grass-roots effort. "The community has truly gotten together to show their displeasure of the vote last week," she said.

She said the MEA and custodians have not been involved in the protest: "My members have been fabulous. They have gone to work everyday; they're still doing their job. I'm very proud of them."

Massie said she has known one of the custodians being laid off since she was a baby. "This is family," she said.

Protestor Jim Ciaramitaro, a Livonia resident whose wife Debbie is head custodian at Clarenceville Middle School, said he hates "union busting."

Edwards said the MEA filed an unfair labor practice grievance against the board for not allowing it to bid on custodial services. A hearing is scheduled for sometime in December.

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