DISD Teachers, Custodians Hold Candlelight Vigil In The Rain To Protest Job Cuts

Undaunted by last night's cold drizzle, around 30 Dallas ISD teachers, custodial workers and other support employees held a quiet march and candlelight vigil outside 3700 Ross Avenue. The reason? DISD's budget-cutting plan to outsource custodial services and HVAC repairs to a private company. Along with the 471 teachers who are expected to be out of work next year, between those proposed school consolidations and an increase in class size at the elementary level, that's a potential loss of around 1,100 total jobs (or, perhaps not, as explained below). And the Alliance-AFT teachers association says one bidder for that custodial contract -- which wouldn't even go before the board till late in the spring -- is Aramark, a company that contracted with DISD back in 2003 -- and who Alliance-AFT says had their contract ripped up for shoddy work.

Custodial staff, says Alliance-AFT president Rena Honea, "go far above and beyond" just cleaning the schools. "They mentor these kids," she said last night, standing alongside the line of marchers, her black umbrella aloft. "They find things for them. They're just there for them, and they take a real interest in these kids." A contract with a private company, she says, would replace those workers with "just somebody off the street, out to make a dollar, who doesn't have their best interests at heart."

Yesterday was the deadline for the bids, and district officials tell Unfair Park they're far from deciding whether or not to privatize; interim superintendent Alan King just wants to consider it as an option as the district looks to cut $38 million from the coming school year's budget. And, DISD higher-ups remind, even if an outside company comes in to run custodial services, that outside company would likely hire back most if not all of the district's custodians.

Honea says now's a good time to remind the DISD board that support staff is crucial to the success of the schools. "We've gone this route before," with privatizing custodial contracts, she said. DISD signed a $1.8-mllion contract with Aramark, which is based in Philadelphia, in July of 2003. But, Honea says, it didn't last. "In 2003, [DISD] stopped their contract with Aramark. There were inadequate supplies, people not doing their jobs, and some building not being cleaned. In addition, there was an EEOC anti-discrimination lawsuit that lost a lot of money... It shouldn't have happened, and we're asking them not to make the same mistake again."

Estella Hernandez and Juan Hernandez (no relation to one another), were two custodial workers who showed up to the march. Both say they have been with DISD for over a decade. The private companies, Estella said, shaking her head, "just take money and leave problems."

Asked what he would do if he lost his job, Juan -- who has worked for the district for 16 years, nine at the same school -- simply shook his head. "I don't know," he said simply. "I have no idea."

Money has to be saved, Honea acknowledged. "But not on the backs of the students and employees who take care of these kids and schools."

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Anna Merlan
Contact: Anna Merlan