Alexandria, VA – Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings said that he has heard the community, and has reinserted 20 ACPS custodians back into his fiscal year 2020 budget proposal. After public outcry, the original plan to outsource 30 custodians who have been with the school system for 20 years or less has been scrapped. Now Hutchings is proposing to the board an alternative course – outsourcing 10 custodians who have worked for ACPS for less than five years.
“Educators here, including our custodians, change the lives of children and I’ve been listening for three months. I need you all to know that,” Hutchings said at a board meeting on Thursday night. “I need people to understand that our custodians are important to us and we wanted to make sure that we were doing everything within our power to be respectful.”
Custodian Jamal Hines has worked at Francis C. Hammond Middle School for 13 years, and said he was thrilled to hear the news.
“It’s wonderful news. I’m glad that he (Hutchings) did the right thing – being an Alexandrian,” said Hines, who attended T.C. Williams High School with Hutchings in the 1990s. “Now I can breathe a little easier. This was a real trying ordeal and he eventually made the right decision, and it’s on us to continue to do a good job. … I’m thankful, but it still hurts that you can’t celebrate with all your coworkers. I’m still hoping everybody stays on.”
Dawn Lucas is the president of the Education Association of Alexandria and said after Hutching’s presentation that she was going to deliver the news to the custodians.
“Certainly it’s a good start,” Lucas said. “I’m going to take this information back to my people and then we’ll have a clearer idea of next steps, but this is a positive step in the right direction.”
School Board Member Michelle Rief thanked Hutchings for his proposal.
“I share a lot of the sentiments that you were expressing earlier about not wanting an issue like this dividing our community, and also not wanting to distract us from what our real mission is, so I really do appreciate that,” Rief said.
At issue was the long-standing promise the school board made to ACPS custodians more than a decade ago, which outlined an attrition plan that would allow the staffers to retire as their positions were filled by private contractors.
The 10 custodians who will be outsourced would still receive a severance package and employment with the new contractor, Hutchings said. It also means that ACPS would outsource the custodial services of one school as a result of the shift, and that current custodial staff will likely need to be moved to other schools.
The funds for the custodians were found by reducing an allocation for substitute teachers.
“If we were to do this option, that would afford us a budget gap of $180,000 that we would need to find to balance our budget,” Hutchings said. “We can look at the substitute fund that we currently have and decrease that fund by $180,000… I do think it is important for central office employees to be out into our schools, and maybe we can offset some of those costs by having central office administrators or central office staff who have teaching licenses to give one day per quarter to volunteer to substitute a class – including the superintendent. So, that’s four times out of the year that I get to substitute a classroom, which I think would be nice, because we need to have a better understanding of what our teachers experience every day.”
School Board members must submit their add/deletes to the budget by May 13 and there will be a school board work session on May 23. The board has also scheduled a follow-up work session for May 29 if necessary, and the board will adopt the budget on June 6.