2/6/08

Privatization causes roach infestation in schools

Grand Rapids (MI) school superintendent Bernard Taylor has a message for his employees: Clean up after yourselves. As the district battles roaches at Lincoln Campus and pests in other buildings, union leaders told the Board of Education on Monday the problems stem from too few custodians and privatized cafeteria aides they say are not tidying up as they should.

But Taylor, who has been sparring with labor leaders for months, dismissed the talk as union bluster. "As always, let me set the record straight," he said. "Not all of us do small things, like keeping food in plastic containers. Custodians aren't the only people responsible for cleaning a school. We all must do what we can to keep our learning environment clean and healthy."

The district has hired outside exterminators and changed policies to help eliminate roaches from Lincoln School, part of a three-building campus that serves special-needs students.

The school has kitchens in each room as students learn to feed themselves and prepare their own meals, and roaches have been a problem for about a year.

The district has paid a local company about $2,000 to inspect, set traps and spray pesticide. Staff also has removed half of the building's refrigerators, taken out some appliances and directed teachers to make sure food not in cans is stored in plastic.

Taylor added that any student could bring pest problems from home.

"Janitors are not our maids, and they are not intended to be our maids," board Treasurer Catherine Mueller said. "It's not beneath my dignity to bend down and pick up a piece of trash on the floor, and that should go for everybody in the schools."

But union leaders said the problems intensified after custodial jobs were eliminated and an outside firm was contracted to clean cafeterias.

Steve Spica, president of the Grand Rapids Educational Support Personnel, said there are 31 daytime custodial jobs -- about one for every two buildings -- and 76 assigned to nighttime maintenance. That's down from about 350 custodians several years ago.

Union leaders said pest and cleanliness problems go far beyond Lincoln Campus. Mice are an issue in several buildings -- including the central office -- and there are complaints about air quality in Riverside Middle School.

The district once had three workers assigned to pest prevention. Now, there is one person, who has other duties as well.

"We can't keep privatizing jobs and expecting people to do more and more and not have a problem like this," Spica said.

(mlive.com)

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