6/26/08

Teamsters dues cut canceled in labor-state

Related story: "Teamsters face dues hit from Gary schools"

Powerful union's political influence triumphs

Seventeen school security posts and the jobs of 11 maintenance workers and five Teamsters were saved Tuesday night when five Gary School Board members excluded those jobs from a proposed $7 million budget slash. Without those layoffs, the cuts amounted to roughly $4.5 million, leaving the district pressed to find other avenues to save $2.5 million by Tuesday's state-mandated deadline.

The surprise move was one of three critical decisions pushed forward by board member Darren Washington in the absence of the Gary Schools Superintendent Mary Steele-Agee, who is on vacation this week.

Washington led a phalanx of members not only to oppose Steele-Agee's cuts, but also to appoint three temporary administrators to regular duty and ditch a food service provider backed by the superintendent -- Sodexho, which had angled for a $2.6 million contract extension this week.

Steele-Agee had expressed prior opposition to all the decisions and a few board members such as Vice President Michael Scott and Jesse Morris refused to follow Washington's lead, saying policy and procedures were not being followed by using the superintendent's absences for the actions.

Andrea Ledbetter also expressed concern that the decisions were being made a week before three new board members begin their official terms.

Washington, saying the district should not pad the coffers of private business while laying off workers capable of the same maintenance jobs, put an end to the plan to cut the building and grounds department by one-third. He said the district has spent $1 million on outside contractors for building upkeep since 2007.

"I believe cutting positions when we haven't adequately cut contractors is a disenfranchisement of the community," Washington said.

He was supported in Tuesday's actions by President Nellie Moore, Debra Crawford, Ledbetter, and occasionally by Alex Wheeler and Morris, who supported saving security jobs. Scott said he wanted to protect high school security but could not support keeping the 12 elementary school security positions.

Scott and Wheeler abstained from voting to save maintenances jobs

Washington also moved to appoint Willie Cook as regular human resources director at a salary of $98,000 for 48 weeks; Ken Bonner as director of purchasing at $72,000; and Willie Stewart as coordinator of security at $62,000. All three had been interims subject to replacement. He also appointed Lionel Hampton lead day security officer and Craig Morris lead night security officer.

Moore, Crawford and Ledbetter joined Washington in voting to not give Sodexho Food Services another year with the district. They saved the district no money last year and realized a $95,000 deficit. Under them, the district was set to lose at least $772,000 next year. The board decided instead to request proposals from other food providers staring June 25.

Ledbetter, Crawford and Wheeler had their last meeting as board members Tuesday; they will be replaced by Marion Williams, Barbara Leek and Ken Stalling on July 1.

(post-trib.com)

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