By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
A Montgomery County School Board meeting turned into an outdoor protest Tuesday evening, as dozens of the district’s custodians left the meeting after being denied an opportunity to speak.
The custodians, upset over moves they believe are leading to their terminations and replacement by private contractors, attended Tuesday’s meeting with the hopes of speaking to board members about their displeasure over recent events and getting answers to some of their questions. Several of the custodians arrived more than an hour prior to the meeting to sign a sheet to speak at the meeting, but they were ultimately denied the opportunity after Board attorney Spud Seale said Board rules require public comments to address a topic on the Board’s agenda.
“It’s unfortunate that they wouldn’t allow these good people to say a few words and voice their concerns,” said AEA’s Lynn Pettway. “This is just going to add more fuel to their fire.”
That seemed to be the case.
A few minutes into the board meeting, the custodians, who had filled the board room to capacity, stood together and left.
Outside, they staged an impromptu protest/press conference.
“This ain’t right, what they’re doing to us,” said custodian Debra Washington. “They want to transfer us. No one says anything about gas money for me driving all over the city. Where’s that going to come from? My little take-home? I don’t think so.”
MPS officials have confirmed that the custodians, under a proposed plan, would be transferred from working under principals at individual schools to working out of the logistics office, where they can be deployed to schools where they’re most needed.
That means the custodians can bounce around from school to school – a plan that sounds good in theory but falls apart in practice. Most custodians take home less than $25,000 per year, but they hold onto the job because the benefits are so good. That leaves many working second jobs or living on tight budgets.
“They know we can’t afford it,” Washington said.
And they believe that’s the ultimate goal – to set the custodians up to fail, either at their jobs by understaffing the custodians or in their personal lives because of the extra expenses. That would allow the district to contract with private companies to do the work.
“That’s exactly what they’re doing,” said Felix Murrell, a custodian at the professional services center. “You can see it happening. It started with us, doing these little things. Now they’ve started in on the maintenance people. They want to outsource it all.
“In the meantime, they’ve got a bunch of people in there making a whole lotta money. You think any of them are giving up anything?”