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Saugus residents petition in support of school custodians

SAUGUS — Days after a Town Meeting member was stopped from reading a resolution supporting school custodians, hundreds of people signed a petition that calls for another meeting so that the document can be heard.

At Monday’s Town Meeting, precinct 5 Town Meeting member Ron Wallace was told by moderator Steve Doherty that he could not read a non-binding resolution because the matter did not appear on the warrant.

Wallace was outraged and said that he was being “silenced.” Other Town Meeting members requested the rules be suspended so their fellow board member could make his statement. But that request was denied too.

“The idea of a resolution being presented on the night of a meeting kind of goes against the state’s and the town’s intent to give fair notice to the citizens and allow those who have a stake in the conversation to come forward and speak about it,” said Doherty.

The incident sparked a grassroots effort to hold a Special Town Meeting before the end of the fiscal year so that members can pass a resolution in opposition of the privatization of custodial services in Saugus schools.

Resident Corrine Riley is spearheading a group called Save Our Custodians and, alongside other volunteers, gathered signatures for two petitions on Hurd Avenue earlier this week. More than 200 residents signed them in just a few hours.

One petition seeks to add a non-binding resolution to a Special Town Meeting in support of the custodians. The second is to add a new bylaw clarifying when non-binding resolutions can be read at Town Meeting. She presented both to selectmen Wednesday night.

“I understand that you can’t act on the request tonight because it is not on your agenda, but given the time sensitivity of the school custodial issue, I request that you accept these petitions this evening out of courtesy for the 200-plus registered voters that signed them within hours, as well as the custodians themselves whose jobs hang in the balance,” said Riley.

Debra Panetta, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, told her that she was correct in saying that the matter could not be taken up.

“It has not been posted and you know, (having been) on the School Committee yourself that we are not allowed to take any action on this this evening,” she said.

Instead, Panetta told Riley she could give the documents to the clerk, who would pass them on to Town Clerk Ellen Schena for the signatures to be verified.

Riley requested the Board of Selectmen call a meeting next week so that a Special Town Meeting could be called before the fiscal year ends and while the petitions are still relevant.

“I don’t know what the schedule is for my fellow selectmen in terms of holding another meeting next week,” said Panetta. “They would have to look into their schedules to see whether we would be able to have another meeting.”

The next selectmen meeting is June 5.

Contracts for the school district’s 20 custodians are set to expire on June 30 and members of Local 262 believe their jobs will be lost to privatization.

A Request for Proposals obtained by the Item states that “the School District currently staffs custodial/cleaning and light maintenance services. The District is seeking proposals for custodial/cleaning services from private companies …”

New hires are expected to “begin July 1, 2019,” a day after the current contracts expire.

“The proposer must demonstrate the needed organizational abilities to successfully implement the transition from our current service to the new program within the proposed timeline,” according to the document.

Listed under staffing requirements, the RFP specifies that the contractor must agree to interview Saugus Public Schools employees “who may be displaced by the execution of this contract” for open positions.

“The members of AFSCME local 262 saugus school custodians would like to thank all those involved in the recent signature drive relative to calling for a special town meeting,” the union said in a statement emailed to the Item. “We feel it is of great importance that the issue of potential privatization of the school custodial services be given the forum it deserves in public session. With the taxpayer investment for the new school complex moving forward we strongly believe we are the best and most invested group to maintain the new and all schools in saugus. We as always are willing to meet in negotiation with the school committee on a successor agreement to accomplish this, again our deepest thanks to all of our supporters.”

But Town Counsel John Vasapolli said Town Meeting has three functions: to appropriate funds for the town budget, adopt or amend bylaws, and accept local option statutes.

“Town Meeting does not spend the funds that they appropriate,” said Vasapolli. “They don’t appoint town officials. They don’t hire employees. They don’t sign contracts. They don’t negotiate contracts. Even when this Town Meeting appropriates money, the town manager or the school side are not required to spend that money.”

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