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posted: 3/13/2010 12:01 AM

District 207 to recall five dismissed custodians

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Five custodians dismissed by Maine Township High School District 207 will be rehired for the 2010-11 academic year after they agreed to take a pay cut to save their jobs, district officials said.

On Feb. 1, the District 207 school board cut 11 custodial/maintenance staff positions as part 137 jobs eliminated to pare down an anticipated $19 million deficit in the 2010 budget.

Overall, the school board authorized $13.5 million in cuts for next year, including laying off 75 certified, largely nontenured teachers and 62 employees in nonteaching jobs, and reduced spending for technology, supplies and energy use. Despite such measures, the district is facing anywhere from a $4 million to $9 million deficit next year.

Two of the fired custodians are being brought back due to one resignation and one retirement. Three others - one each at Maine East, South and West high schools - also will return to work July 1 because the custodians collectively agreed to voluntary furlough days and pay freezes, District 207 Superintendent Ken Wallace said.

"We're really pleased that the custodians supported the idea that allowed us to keep staff working," Wallace said. "We gave them the information about different options and allowed them to vote democratically on the choice, which they supported overwhelmingly."

The district's remaining 94 custodians agreed to take four unpaid furlough days over the course of the year, which amounts to a roughly 1.5 percent pay cut saving the district $125,000 in salary and other employment costs. The custodians also agreed to a freeze in scheduled step increases paid for each additional year of experience.

"The recalled staff will help distribute the custodial workload to ensure a clean and safe environment is maintained for students and staff," said Gregory Dietz, District 207 assistant superintendent for general administration.

The school board earlier froze salary increases for all noncertified employees for the 2010-11 school year, which includes administrators. District officials were unable to get teachers to agree to a one-year salary freeze to save about 40 to 45 of the 75 teaching jobs eliminated last month.

The Maine Teacher's Association's roughly 600 members earlier this week rejected the district's latest request to reopen contract negotiations.

The union would have had to agree to forego a 3.2 percent salary increase for the 2010-11 academic year, while still receiving step pay increases based on years of experience and a 3.5 percent wage increase in the 2011-12 school year.

Teachers have repeatedly asked the school board to spend the district's reserves to plug the deficit. District 207's financial troubles came to light at the end of the 2008-09 school year, when the district still had a cash balance of $100 million, roughly 90 percent of its annual operating budget of $112 million.

Wallace said the timing of the agreement with custodial staff had nothing to do with the teacher's union vote.

"We've been talking to all the employee groups for a while now and we were just able to put this one in place," Wallace said.

The administration is now discussing the possibility of furlough days with the secretarial staff to save some of the 13.5 positions cut, but just how many is uncertain, Wallace said.

Any decisions on recalling fired employees will be made at the April 5 school board meeting.

The District 207 school board on Feb. 1 approved the following full-time equivalent staff cuts from the 2009-2010 budget:

• Certified teaching staff: 13% (75 jobs)

• Safety monitors: 31% (16.5 jobs)

• Secretary/clerical: 15% (13.5 jobs)

• Teaching assistants: 17% (11 jobs)

• Custodial/maintenance: 11% (11 jobs)

• Administrative: 11% (7 jobs)

• Technology/data processing: 10% (2 jobs)

• Security guards: 7% (1 job)