By Monroe Roark
In the wake of the Henry
County Board of Education’s April 8 vote to outsource custodial
services (see story in April 10 edition of the Times), the
discussion has continued throughout the county among the
affected employees, parents of public school students and school
system officials regarding the long-term effects of this
The school board sent a
letter to the editor that was published in the April 17 edition
of the Times, reiterating how difficult the move was for board
members, but one they felt was absolutely necessary. The system
expects to save $4.7 million over the next three years under the
new agreement with SSC Service Solutions that would take effect
In the letter, the board
pointed out that $156 million in state funding cuts and $42
million in reduced property tax revenue over the past 10 years
have had a devastating impact on the school system, and a number
of measures have already been implemented to counteract this
decline – employees taking 17-21 furlough days over the past
four years, class sizes going up and school/central office staff
sizes going down. Also, the board expects benefit costs for
non-certified employees to increase $7 million in the next three
Decisions such as the
custodial outsourcing “are most difficult. Each of our staff
members in the school system is valued and appreciated.
Unfortunately, fi-nancial realities beyond our control require
extraordinary considerations and actions,” the board wrote.
There has been a great
deal of speculation in the community about exactly how current
custodial employees will be affected by the switch to SSC this
summer. In response to a detailed request for information from
the Times, Superintendent Dr. Ethan Hildreth’s office issued a
statement covering several key points.
Times: What compensation
will the existing employees receive for their unused sick leave
and vacation time?
Henry County School
System (HCSS): For employees who have been with the system five
years and have at least 41 days of unused sick leave, these
employees will be compensated $15 per day up to 145 days. This
is the only reimbursement policy for sick leave and is outlined
in employee handbooks when they start working for the system.
Employees are compensated a daily rate for each day of unused
vacation time up to a maximum of 20 days.
Times: If a current
employee is offered a job with SSC at a much lower salary and
turns it down, will that person be ineligible for unemployment?
HCSS: That is not up to
the school system. The Department of Labor would make that
Times: How will their
accrued retirement be affected? Will vested employees be able to
roll over their retirement money or will they lose it?
HCSS: Honestly, there are
so many different scenarios with this and two different
retirement systems to consider options for. In short, they still
have the same options that are available to them during their
employment. If they are vested, they can leave the money where
it is and once they reach the trigger dates/age for
withdrawal/payment, they then receive payments like they would
if they never left the system. They will not lose any money that
is currently in their retirement; it is up to them what they do
with it once they aren’t employees of the district.
Times: How many children
of current custodial employees enjoy the standard privilege of
crossing district lines? Will they lose that?
HCSS: A total of 23
children will lose the option to attend the school of a parent’s
choice due to a total of 17 custodians not being employed by the
district. However, as long as the custodians are residents of
the county and the schools their children currently attend have
space under the school choice law (HB 251 and SB 10), they can
fill out the appropriate paperwork to apply to remain at these
Times: You pointed out
last month that the current budget for 315 custodial/landscaping
employees is $9.2 million for salaries and benefits. Is this the
lowest-paid group of full-time employees in the system? What is
this year’s budget figure for TOTAL salaries and benefits, and
for how many employees?
HCSS: The employees in the
district earning the least are paraprofessionals, bus monitors
and food service assistants. The budget figure for total
salaries and benefits is $264 million (the total budget for the
school system is $293 million). We have 6,179 employees in the
system – 2,890 are certified and 3,289 are classified.
Times: How many HCSS
employees receive total compensation (salary and benefits) of
more than $100,000 per year in the current budget year?
HCSS: There are 45 employees in the
district who have a salary at or above $100,000. This equals to
0.7% of our overall workforce. There are 282, or 4.5% of the
workforce, earning a total compensation of $100,000 or more. In
order for TOTAL compensation to reach or exceed $100,000, an
employee must have a salary of at least $74,000.