A sad ending in Saugus

Sunday is the final day of work for 21 Saugus public school custodians. The layoff notices they received two weeks ago list June 30 as the custodians’ last day of work. On Wednesday, the School Committee voted to hire a private firm to clean the town’s schools. 

There is almost nothing positive to say about the protracted agony that defined the town’s decision to part ways with people who, by all accounts, work hard, love Saugus and its kids, and who wish they could keep cleaning town schools. 

The layoffs left the custodians angry, depressed and, in some cases, baffled. The decision to replace them with a contractor angered parents and students, and it set the stage for an embarrassing and ugly battle between School Committee members that laid bare a deep division in the committee. 

School Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi hours after sending layoff notices to the custodians announced that the decision would save more than $1 million. What DeRuosi did not immediately state is how much a contractor will cost. 

What he also did not say was “thank you” to the custodians for their years of faithful service.

For all the mean-spiritedness she publicly displayed during the June 20 School Committee meeting, Chair Jeannie Meredith offered in a followup interview, compelling reasons why the committee must make tough spending decisions on behalf of Saugus students.

The middle school, Meredith said, is among one of the academically-worst of its kind in the state based on comprehensive assessment scoring. That is bad news. It is also a problem Saugus is busy and boldy fixing by building a new combined middle and high school. 

Editorials published in this newspaper have consistently praised Saugus officials for thinking big and convincing parents to go along with a massive school construction and reorganization project. 

What is missing from that proactive thinking is an explanation for why squeezing $1 million by laying off custodians makes sense. Questions surround DeRuosi’s savings claim, including how much the private contractor will cost not only for the upcoming school year but for the following year. 

As the custodians pointed out, it is also fair to assess the hidden costs of hiring a company that for several months at least will lack a working familiarity with Saugus schools. 

Why couldn’t the committee offer early retirement packages to custodians nearing retirement and reorganize the remaining custodians to clean the schools. As an alternative, why couldn’t school officials gradually phase out the custodian jobs over the next three years and then introduce a private cleaning firm once the new middle-high school and reconfigured elementary schools are up and running. 

The right and decent decision would have been to ask and answer these questions before sending loyal and beloved employees packing.

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