Local Government and Politics, News

Saugus to hold a Special Town Meeting for custodial services privatization

SAUGUS — There will be a Special Town Meeting June 24 to hear a resolution opposing the privatization of custodial services in the public schools.

Contracts for the school district’s 20 custodians are set to expire on June 30 and hundreds of residents are petitioning for the School Committee to reject the idea of privatizing their jobs.

“Such an action would remove taxpayer control in governmental accountability over the cleaning and maintenance of the town’s school buildings,” the resolution reads. “Eliminating the current custodial positions and replacing them with a private company would make our schools more susceptible to theft, reduce the quality delivered to our students, and replace loyal, hardworking and dedicated employees with transient workers being paid at the poverty level.”

It calls on the School Committee to instead negotiate a fair contract with the custodial staff.

At an annual meeting last month, 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 the resolution.

A petition will also be heard to adopt a bylaw that says that any Town Meeting member can propose a non-binding resolution within 48 hours of written or electronic notice.

It specifies that resolutions may not seek to appropriate funds, propose zoning or general bylaw changes, or have any binding effects on the operations of town government. Resolutions will not be considered actions of the Town Meeting, as defined by Massachusetts General Law, according to the proposal. They will be considered statements of opinion and will require a majority vote.

“Even though this has been a privatization issue as it began, as we all know, the more important thing was freedom of speech,” said Corinne Riley. “Hopefully this, with the Town Meeting and the bylaw that will hopefully be voted on and inserted, this won’t happen again; when people want to speak at town meeting they’ll be allowed to.”

In a statement, the members of AFSCME local 262 Saugus school custodians thanked all those involved in calling for a Special Town Meeting.

“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,” according to the statement. “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.”

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