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Sympathy wanes for custodians

Posted: May 18, 2013 - 11:03pm

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.

(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimesonline.com, or call 706 868-1222, ext. 106. Follow at www.twitter.com/barrypaschal.)

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Comments (12)


I would venture to say that your grandparents

like mine, embarrassed what was referred to as the Protestant Work Ethic. Loosely defined as "do all that you do as unto the Lord, knowing that He is the rewarder..."

The value of hard work and a job well done was its own reward. A silent pride in one's accomplishment. Your word was your bond. You did not waste the blessing bestowed upon you and your family. Your iron skillet and bed frame were part of your Will.

A certain Fortune 500 company that began operation in Augusta some fifty years ago described this mindset as part of what they called a "rural background". They viewed this as a positive in potential employees. Doing the best job possible because it was the right and Christian way to conduct oneself.

Despite our progressive society, there are absolutes that will yield success. Love the Lord. Love you family. Work hard.


James and Albert

Yep, Barry's granddad embraced the work ethic. I remember from my grammar school days in SC our janitors. Part of that is because their photos were in our little hand-sized yearbook. Everyone knew James, the older black gentleman and Albert, the younger. They were part of the school in so many ways. They would get on you if you messed up things or didn't obey your teacher in the hallway. Over the years, I've noticed the influence many janitor types have over the people of the facility, no matter their position.


One of my best teachers

In my school we served detention not by reading in quiet in study hall, but by being turned over to the janitorial staff as helpers after school hours. For too many reasons to name, I got to know those janitors very well and for all of the fantastic teachers I had, none taught me more about hard work and self respect than Isaac, our custodian. He was a quiet man who dutifully did his work behind the scenes everyday. But if you ever had the chance to speak to him, you would find out that he was a proud, well-spoken, educated family man who loved the Lord and loved his job. And when he wasn't at the school, he also worked as a preacher at a downtown church. When I graduated, one of the first people I sought out was Isaac. I could tell he was proud of me. I asked him to sign my yearbook and he proceeded to write a poetic and concise treatise on being an adult and being a man. I will always treasure the time we shared. I feel sorry for the students of today that they will not have such an influence on their lives and education.


You would think

You would think making NEW positions to oversee these custodians would have a positive impact on the schools and cleanliness, but it has had the opposite effect. Yes, CCBOE approved supervisory positions to oversee custodians in a cluster environment. Sadly it is worse. I just question why they are not being held to a standard if they know what the standard is???


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