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School custodians continue their fight against privatization in Hillsborough County

Uncertainty reigns as the school board will soon review proposals from private contractors who could potentially take over their department.

TAMPA, Fla. — School custodians throughout Hillsborough County united once again Tuesday morning, rallying outside of district headquarters in Tampa against a proposal to outsource their services to a private contractor.

“It’s very stressful on everybody because we’re all wondering what’s going on,” said custodian Stephanie Clark. “I’m a 43-year-old woman. You can’t just walk in and get a job. You can’t. I don’t even know if I’m going to be able to pay my bills.”

Despite the district reassuring workers that there has been no discussion to eliminate jobs, these are the fears many custodians have upon realizing the school board will soon review proposals from private contractors who could potentially take over their department.

“I need my job. They’re thinking about taking us custodians out,” said Clark.

Since the workers last rallied in early April, the district said it is now also weighing the benefits of centralizing its services as an alternative to outsourcing.

RELATED: Hillsborough school custodians up in arms over possible outsourcing

“Centralization would still make the employees our district employees, but you would have more of a centralized approach to it. You would have supervisors that would dispatch custodians to the different schools,” said district spokesperson Tanya Arja.

Centralization could cut down on the number of custodians needed, and the district would use employee attrition to cut costs. This is part of a recommendation from a consulting firm the district paid roughly $800,000 as part of a contract to analyze how the district can be more financially efficient.

“We want to make sure we’re using taxpayer dollars wisely, so we are going through this [RFP] process. But no decisions have been made, and no recommendations will be brought to the board until we have all of the options on the table and we see really what the cost benefits are, if any, and what impact it would have not only on our schools, but on our staff members,” said Arja.

State education leaders agree it’s important to watch the bottom line, but argue this is about more than money.

“We have to make local decisions, and we have to make the right decisions on a local level with the money that we have," said Fedrick Ingram, president of the Florida Education Association.

“Sixty percent of these employees are female employees, and 90 percent of these employees are minority employees, and so there’s an underlying factor here that will hurt already impoverished communities, families and students because these adults who take care of these kids are all attached to our public school students,” he said. “And if they lose their jobs, then there’s a ripple effect throughout the communities. There’s a ripple effect throughout our ZIP codes that are already struggling.”

Hillsborough County Schools has roughly 1,600 custodians; about 1,300 are represented by the Hillsborough School Employees Federation.

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