SAUGUS — Twenty-one custodians employed by the School Department learned Tuesday morning they would lose their jobs to privatization.
In a layoff notice signed by Superintendent David DeRuosi, the employees were told their collective bargaining agreement with AFSCME Local 262 will expire on June 30.
“As a result, your employment with the Saugus School Department will be ending as of that date,” DeRuosi wrote in the notice, which was obtained by The Item.
The custodians had a combined average of 17 years of experience working in the Saugus Public School system, according to the union.
Hours after receiving notice of their termination, DeRuosi released a statement outlining new programs that would be implemented in the schools “in substantial part through savings and efficiencies gained through the efforts of the School Committee.”
This includes new literacy curriculum — coding and robotics classes — and teachers to instruct them, and the restoration of world language classes at the middle school and possibly the elementary level. New curriculum coordinators will also be hired.
“This comprehensive plan has been made possible by prioritizing and focusing available resources, including through the redistribution of labor and operations of custodial services within the school district as considered, analyzed and determined by the School Committee,” said DeRuosi in a statement.
He estimated that laying off the employees could provide “potential overall cost savings” of $1.1 million annually. The unfunded benefits associated with the custodians is estimated to be a $5 million liability, he said.
“The School Department is making these decisions, through this sometimes-challenging period of reconfiguration, in the best interests of the students of Saugus,” he said. “The primary goal of the School Department is to work towards these necessary performance alignments and achievements that reflect the character and priorities of this community.”
Chairwoman Jeannie Meredith declined to comment on the decision, citing a bargaining exemption to the Open Meeting Law.
A statement outlining the entire timeline of the two years of negotiations and impact bargaining with the custodial union will be given upon completion of all bargaining sessions, she said.
The announcement comes days after two other school committee members spoke out about confusion surrounding a vote taken in executive session regarding the employees.
Liz Marchese and Lisa Morgante told The Item on Friday they feared the panel inadvertently voted to terminate contracts for the custodians in a meeting that was closed to the public.
They believed they were voting to gather more information about the custodial bids received by the department. After the meeting, however, they became concerned that the vote actually terminated the union contract.
After the meeting, both Morgante and Marchese emailed the full board several times asking for clarification on the vote, copies of the bids and for a draft of the executive session minutes to review. The emails were obtained and reviewed by The Item.
Meredith said she did not respond to the emails because they contained deliberations and she believes answering them would be a direct violation of the Open Meeting Law.
“This decision was not an easy decision … I will share that at no time did I feel as if we were asked to make an ill-informed decision,” said committeeman Marc Magliozzi about the executive session, adding that he is limited in what he can say because of the Open Meeting Law. “In November 2017 I was elected to help the children of the district and improve education. As we sit today, we are a failing school district that needs attention. We need to put educational pieces back in place in order to improve and achieve the high academic standards that I have for our children.”