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Custodians, District Ready to Work Together

Board employees went from being told to look for new jobs to having a contract in a matter of weeks.

As of about two weeks ago, Joe Cecala, president of the Madison Facilities Staff Association, was telling the 20 Madison school custodians in the union to start looking for jobs in light of a district proposal to outsource most of its custodial services.

Then, after the Board of Education tabled a vote on the issue at a May 8 meeting where students, parents, police officers and residents voiced concerns about paying an outside company to clean the schools, the union and Board of Education continued working on a possible deal.

Around 6 p.m. Monday, Cecala authorized the new contract with the union's support and, the next day, the Board of Education unanimously approved it at the start of its 7:30 p.m. meeting.

But until the board actually approved it, Cecala said he wasn't sure what would happen. When he got up Tuesday and thanked those who supported the custodians, he said he was at a loss for words.

"I just want to thank everyone for saving our jobs," he said.

Board Vice President Pat Rowe, who cast the lone no vote to remove the proposed outsourcing contract from the agenda, said even though he believes the district will need to outsource custodial services in the future and was prepared to support awarding a contract to Aramark on Tuesday, the new contract with the custodians union is a good one, which is why he said he voted in favor of it.

Details about the new contract, which lasts through next school year and contains most of the concessions the board requested, were not released because the agreement was being finalized, Cecala said.

Superintendent Dr. Michael Rossi, who recommended outsourcing on May 8, had said the union was making excellent offers, but their offers still needed to be weighed against outsourcing, which would have allowed the district to increase the total number of custodians by 16 within the confines of its existing budget while still keeping some custodians in house, and which some officials said was needed because the schools were not being adequately maintained as a result of being short staffed due to recent budget cuts.

Board President Lisa Ellis said changes and concessions in the contract are "a big first step" in giving the district the ability to internally address many of the issues that led to problems with maintaining the schools.

Board members also had financial and structural concerns with the Aramark deal, and also listened to the community's concerns, she said.

"After more than a year of careful evaluation, animated discussion, a lot of listening and thoughtful deliberation, the board has decided that custodial outsourcing is not right for Madison at this moment in time and we are withdrawing all associated items from this evening's agenda," Ellis said.

Ellis called the process "painful" and said the community should be ready to volunteer to paint and clean the schools, as well as rally against state aid cuts and unfunded mandates from Trenton.

"I want to thank the entire staff for their understanding and respectful patience throughout this painful process and for your consistent willingness to work with the administration to get this contract signed," she said. "We know this has been a very difficult time for all of you, but I am confident that we will be able to work together positively and creatively going forward."

One way the district might work creatively in the future is enlisting more community help, in the spirit of May Day, to maintain the schools, Ellis said.

For May Day, Ellis said she coordinates nearly 1,000 people to spruce up the borough with only a series of emails.

"This is what makes Madison different—what makes Madison great," she said.

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