Many overly simplistic people think the reason I’m such a strong defender of public education is because my wife is a principal. (And now, I suppose, also because my middle daughter is a teacher.)
But my support for public education, like many of my foundational beliefs, is far older than those relationships and rooted in my deep respect for my grandfather: the late Lloyd Paschal.
There used to be a time when pretty much everyone around here knew Mr. Lloyd, but much of that time has moved on, and many of those people, like him, have passed on. He lived all his 97 years here in Columbia County, raising the eight of his 10 children who survived infancy on a modest farm in Winfield.
My grandmother never worked outside their home, unless you count her volunteer efforts at the Sharon Baptist Church library. (Some day I would love to have enough money to make a donation that would encourage the church to name that library in her memory.)
What that meant, then, was that my grandfather financed that household largely on the income from his work as a Columbia County school maintenance man.
Oh, I wish I could do so much with so little. And if everyone ran their kitchen like my super-frugal grandmother, those faddish “super-couponers” would be embarrassed at their opulent excess.
Without education beyond secondary school, both of them exuded the value of hard work and sacrifice. Yet they produced not just my dad, of course, but an uncle who would become a school superintendent in another Georgia county, and an aunt who would later retire as a school counselor here. Filtering down from those generations are numerous school teachers and administrators, including those aforementioned members of my own family.
Yet the greatest education I received from any of them was from my granddad, who had the least formal education of all of them. One of the things that I learned was to have a healthy respect for those who perform menial jobs, especially when they do so with pride.
With that background, I’m disappointed that the continued budget crunch for Columbia County schools likely could lead to outsourcing most, if not all, school janitorial services.
I’m disappointed not just because of the worry that hard-working people could lose their jobs or be forced into contract positions with lower pay. It’s also disappointing because, in some respects, the potential loss of those jobs is self-inflicted.
See, a couple of years ago, the county school system worked on a proposal for outsourcing janitorial services with potential savings of $1.6 million or more a year – more than the amount saved from a couple of days of furloughing employees.
For me, though, there was a problem with the proposal. While I’m all in favor of using the power of the private sector, I’m not a fan of having outside workers inside the schools on a routine basis, potentially in contact with students, in a situation where the school administration has little direct control over them and little knowledge of who they are.
A better setup would have private crews after-hours only, while reducing the number of county-employed (and vetted) custodians to perhaps two per school, with staggered schedules overlapping at midday for lunchroom cleaning duties.
That wouldn’t save as much, but it would be a savings. And it wouldn’t put us in the situation of having strangers – including, for all we know, illegal aliens and criminals on work-release – inside our schools while students are present. Moms would be relieved.
But here’s the thing: If you thought your job was in jeopardy, wouldn’t you work harder to prove you’re worth the paycheck? I know I would. In fact, I can confidently say I already do; the newspaper business is far too unpredictable for anyone to get comfortable.
Yet from school after school, I’ve heard mostly complaints about cleanliness since the county decided to forego outsourcing, saving much less by merely trimming the number of custodians.
We could easily surmise that, with fewer custodians, cleaning a school is harder. I get it. But it also is common sense that you’re more likely to convince someone of your worth if you demonstrate it, rather than giving up and making them wonder if you have value. Or doubt that you care.
What’s all this mean? The budgets have gotten even tighter, making it harder to argue against outsourcing. And just when they most need defending, many of the custodians have squandered any hope that their schools will go to bat for them.
As a result, those custodians who I defended a couple of years ago might now be on the edge of not-working themselves out of a job as the lure of frugality grows stronger to the people who pay the bills.
I can’t be sympathetic any more, either. Too much of my work ethic, and frugality, came from Mr. Lloyd for that.