Strategy Meeting for Challenging Ann Arbor Public Schools Privatization
MONDAY, June 16, 7pm
LEO/GEO offices, 339 E. Liberty, Suite 340, Ann Arbor
As some of you already know, on June 11, the Ann Arbor Public Schools’ Board voted 5-2 to privatize its custodial services by signing a contract with GCA Services Group, a subsidiary of the Blackstone Group. Only Board members Baskett and Lightfoot voted against the deal.
The Board majority ignored the request that it delay its decision until it could evaluate an alternative proposal, under which current employees would form a worker cooperative and contract with the AAPS for the services that they previously supplied as AAPS employees.
This alternative was supported by the union that represents the affected custodial workers, AFSCME Local 1182, by AFSCME’s state-level Council 25, by AAEA, the union representing Ann Arbor’s public school teachers, by University of Michigan academics such as Roland Zullo, and by parents of public school children such as Rabindar Subbian.
If the Board majority’s decision is allowed to stand, these workers will lose their jobs on July 1. They may apply for jobs with GCA, but the company is under no obligation to give preference to the workers who do so. Even if they do get the work, they will face major pay cuts. Employer contributions to their retirement and their health care will also plummet.
Rejecting the creative response put forward by the union in favor of the same old same old neoliberal prescriptions is exactly the wrong direction for Ann Arbor’s public schools and the community they serve. We’ve been following this kind of misguided policy for almost 40 years now. The result: income is becoming more and more polarized throughout the country and — as we’ll show in a report to be released in August — Washtenaw County is no exception to this rule. Job insecurity is growing at the same time. The School Board’s decision will reinforce this negative trends.
It is clear that Republicans in Lansing want to privatize public education as a whole, and are using annual budget cuts as a weapon for pressuring School Boards across the state to move steadily in this direction. The fundamental problem is the balance of political power in Lansing (and Washington), not the School Board. But we need to hold the School Board accountable for failing to even seriously investigate a better option when it was presented to them. They did not need to behave this way. Lansing cannot be blamed for this failure. They are entitled to have doubts about the cooperative option, but in that case they did not need to decide the issues so precipitously. They could have taken an extra month to help develop and assess the coop option.
The union’s proposal does not pretend that sacrifice by workers can be avoided. Republicans in Lansing have been able to ensure that much. Even under the worker co-op plan, these workers will lose employer pension and health contributions because AAPS will no longer be their employer. That is where the savings to AAPS come from. But at least current employees will have the security of keeping their jobs, at current wage levels. And the community will know that any profits from this process will stay in the county, not disappear into the pockets of wealth out-of-state shareholders.
It is unacceptable that the Board’s majority should refuse to assess properly a serious alternative approach that promises to minimize the damage done by bad budget decisions in Lansing while also meeting the budget goals that the Board must achieve.
What can we – Ann Arbor’s taxpayers, parents, union members, and progressive activists — do about this? Plenty, I think. Possible responses include (1) one or more events designed to raise public consciousness about this bad decision and the alternative to it; (2) supporting up to four AAPS School Board members in the November 2014 elections; and (3) helping to develop and promote an alternative, worker and community-friendly vision of economic development in our region, to piggy-back on reports on growing poverty and inequality that will be released by the United Way and the Huron Valley Central Labor Council in August 2014.
You may well have additional and/or better ideas. Please bring yourself and your ideas to our strategy meeting at the LEO/GEO offices this Monday (June 16th) at 7pm! If you are interested in attending, please email Ian Robinson at e.ian.robinson at gmail.com to let him know. (Rabindar cannot come but he will phone in; if you are in the same situation, let me know!)