By Ashleigh Costello

PUEBLO, Colo. – The Pueblo City school board approved an amended budget Tuesday that will outsource five vacant custodial positions, despite pleas from union officials to maintain the positions for more expensive union workers.

The District 60 school board voted 3-2 to outsource current vacant night custodian positions and any future positions that may become open.

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The board projects the move will save the cash-strapped district nearly $108,000.

Dozens of people attended the school board meeting Tuesday night to hear the district’s plan. Prior to voting, the board listened to more than 30 minutes of public comment.

Association of Custodial and Maintenance Employees President Jose Baca said he understands the district is facing budget constraints but urged the board to reconsider its plan.

Baca warned that using a contract service instead of union employees would jeopardize the safety and security of schools. He also told the board the move could lead to inconsistencies in service and miscommunication between the day and night staff.

“Parents, students and staff know and trust the custodians,” said Baca. “They keep the schools safe and clean.”

Baca conveniently skipped a few facts about privatization.

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All people working in the school must pass a background check before being hired, union or otherwise. And unlike union workers, contract employees can be fired almost immediately with little or no cost to the district.

Union employees can only be fired after a long and expensive process.

Some defenders of union custodians said they play a mentoring and counseling role with students, something contractual custodians would be less likely to do.

One school board member did not buy that argument.

“I think the problem is that our custodians seem to think that they’re in there to mentor and to counsel and they’re not,” said board member Rose Holloway. “They’re in there to clean and I don’t believe that’s part of their job description.”

While custodians play an important role in making sure schools are operational, the purpose of schools is to educate children, not act as a union employment agency. Schools should dedicate all available resources to the classroom, particularly during tough economic times.

If that means hiring less expensive custodians, so be it.