MADISON — The school district is considering cutting the positions of about 25 custodians and bus drivers and hiring cheaper, contracted labor to replace them.

While the district is examining laying off the unionized workers to cut costs, the proposal has angered some who say the janitors and drivers have lived and worked in the area for many years and know all the students.

Superintendent Todd LeRoy said Wednesday that School Administrative District 59 is facing severe losses in revenue from the state and possibly from the town of Starks, which may secede.

“What would you rather do? Would you rather hurt the students and the educational process or be able to lower your costs in other areas?” LeRoy said.

“It’s a horrible situation to find yourself in,” he said. But, “being a fiscally prudent leader requires that I look at every option available and bring every option before my board.”

It ultimately will be the school board’s decision whether to hire contractors to fulfill the district’s custodial and transportation services.

A subcommittee made up of LeRoy, a board member, union members, administrators and the transportation and building maintenance directors is reviewing six bids for the job and determining an estimated cost savings.

While there is no firm cost savings number yet, LeRoy said, it is clear that having contractors do the work is less expensive. Those who have submitted bids have stated they would give preference to hiring people who were laid off.

“We need to look at all of our options. Looking at options doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily going to take action on them,” LeRoy said.

The options, however, worry some. “These are members of our community. They’ve lived here. Our kids know them,” said Melody Beaman, of Madison, whose stepmother is a custodian at the high school. Her daughter graduated from the district, and her son is in junior high.

Beaman said the district should think first about how switching to contractors will affect students. The custodians take time to talk to students, know them by their first names and alter their schedules to work on the weekends for sports games and events, she said.

Referring to her stepmother, Suzanne Bassett, she said, “Kids come up to her all the time, ‘Hey, Susie how are you doing?’ It gives them someone to talk to.”

Custodians “go above and beyond. They work on Saturdays,” she said. “Is a subcontractor really going to do that?”

Chris Roy, who works in the district’s building maintenance department and is on the subcommittee, said he is examining specifics of the bid proposals before deciding whether to support contracting out services.

“If we can save the taxpayers money, I’m for it. If we can’t and it costs us more money in the long run, I’m not for it,” he said. “There are still a lot of questions to be answered.”

One question he has, he said, is what will happen if the district gets rid of its fleet of buses and then the contractor increases its price.

“I’m concerned once you get rid of it, how you control the cost. That’s my biggest concern,” he said.

He also questioned what will happen if the district signs a contract for bus drivers to travel a certain mileage and then needs to increase the mileage. Will the district be charged an amount that makes it unreasonable to hire a contractor in the first place? he asked.

James Rier, director of finance and operations at the Maine Department of Education, said the amount of subsidy that the state provides school districts is not contingent on whether the districts contract out services.

The subcommittee will discuss the bid proposals next week. The following week, on Monday, Dec. 19, the school board may vote on the issue, though the agenda has not yet been set.

Efforts to reach Ronald Chillington, president of the Madison Area Education Association, were not successful.

Erin Rhoda — 612-2368

[email protected]

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