May 10, 2019
Response to School Board Member Steve Cona’s
Comments During the May 7, 2019 Regular Board Meeting
Steve Cona said “No one from the union has come to speak to me. No one from union leadership has requested a meeting to come up with any ideas about centralization.”
Since the RFP to outsource custodial jobs was activated on March 8, 2019 a number of employees represented by both HSEF and HCTA have come to School Board meetings to speak to leaders during employee comment on the potential privatization of HCPS Custodial Operations.
On March 12, 2019 (4 days after employees & the public were informed of the activation of the RFP) HSEF leaders requested meetings with ALL school board members. After communications between our office and all Board Members’ offices we secured meetings with all Members, including Mr. Cona. After setting and confirming an April 9th meeting with Mr. Cona, we showed up for our appointment, but he was not present and recently proved to us on Twitter that we were not even on his calendar. We accepted it as an oversight and worked with his staff to reschedule the meeting for April 15 and unfortunately due to an unforeseen conflict we had to cancel our meeting which we sent notice of on April 12 to his office. We now wonder if this was all a tactic to frame HSEF in a bad light.
It’s one thing to simply disagree with the point of view of employees and HSEF, it’s another to misrepresent our intent when there is clear evidence employees and HSEF leaders have actively sought to speak with all Board Members and district administrators. We have in fact come to the table many times to work with those who actually manage the day-to-day operations of HCPS to do what is BEST for our employees and schools through a Centralization model. Steve Cona’s intimate involvement with the RFP seeking to privatize custodians is no excuse to publicly misrepresent the truth.
Steve Cona said “One key component of the RFP which is not being told to our hard working custodians out there is the fact that part of the RFP looks for salaries wages and benefits that a private company would offer our custodians should they choose to work for a private company. Those benefits may be greater than what we’re offering.”
First, this particular comment sheds light on the deep involvement this School Board member has with the RFP and how little the district is communicating with HSEF. Mr. Cona’s comment was made the same day a revised RFP was released, as though it was public knowledge before or even on May 7, 2019. Previously, the RFP did NOT ask for vendors to provide wage prices for custodial employees. Revisions were posted the day of this School Board meeting and HSEF only received documentation of this and other revisions on the afternoon of May 8, 2019, the day after this comment.
Secondly, what is almost more alarming about Mr. Cona’s comment on this previously unknown revision was that it was combined with a suggestion that employees who choose to work for a private company could earn higher wages and benefits without any data to support this claim. He went on to say that this process “it’s not just about we’re going for the lowest price”. This combination of statements presents a problematic message coming from Mr. Cona as it was not long ago that he touted that the work of custodians who earn an average yearly salary of $24,000 in-house is “costing the district a premium”.
Mr. Cona implied HSEF is not informing employees about the realities of the RFP and privatization, but we have addressed the problems with the RFP and have provided clear examples of how privatization of custodial jobs have not proven better pay, benefits or working conditions for employees through our website and direct emailing. The fact is, HSEF leaders met with the Superintendent and his senior staff on Friday May 3, 2019 where no information was shared about the upcoming revisions to the RFP, nor was it mentioned the district would be putting out a survey to employees the following Monday concerning Custodial Operations.
We ask, before Mr. Cona accuses our organization of not communicating with the employees we represent, that he acknowledge how he and the district for which he sets policy are NOT COMMUNICATING effectively with our office or the employees of HCPS who work hard for children, schools and our community each day.
In response to Steve Cona’s accusation that there are “ZERO” centralization ideas from “this group in the back who likes to come to the meeting and throw spears”:
The District chose to pay almost a million dollars for a consulting firm to provide recommendations to improve services and save money. Why would Mr. Cona expect the union to provide a better solution without even attempting to implement the Gibson recommendations? HSEF would have been happy to help the district five years ago for an amount considerably less than what was spent on the Gibson report, however at this point in time we suggest the district try following the recommendations they paid for first.
It is not the role of HSEF or any union to do the job of management and since March 8, 2019 we have IN FACT met more than once with district leaders and custodial operations managers to collaborate on Centralization. A letter was provided to custodial employees about the intent to pilot Centralization and form a committee. However, the message we continue to hear from Mr. Cona is a clear desire to privatize district operations utilizing proposals that will be compared to a centralization model that hasn’t been properly piloted. Custodial operations could be managed in the ways he demands in-house, but this is not the fault nor the responsibility of our organization or the custodial employees we represent. Proper operations management and the responsible use of nearly $1 million dollars is up to Superintendent Jeff Eakins.
As we’ve pointed out, the exact same commitment to centralize custodial operations was communicated by district leadership to the public and employees in June of 2017. The mistrust employees have comes from the fact that a plan was put together but the process was stopped by district administration shortly after. If Steve Cona is not afraid of competition, then why is he so set against a good recommendation from Gibson that is different than his own?
Singling out union members and the activities of employees:
Above all else we must point out that the groups of people who have recently gathered at meetings may be union members, but most importantly they are employees of the Hillsborough County School District. Their right to gather together to advance their interests as employees without fear of any reprisal is protected by law.
Employees have conducted themselves in respectful ways and have in no way made insults or acted in an unprofessional way. They have all expressed fears and concerns for the security of custodians’ jobs. Many have shared the important roles custodians play in their school. Some have asked clarifying questions and offered comments to address what they’ve heard in Mr. Cona’s statements and the actions of the Superintendent to date. They have expressed their position against the outsourcing of these jobs because in privatization models that can be researched across the country and state, school district custodians have not seen better salaries, benefits or working conditions.
Singling out employees who are making efforts to protect their way of life by coming to meetings to speak against privatization and accusing them of “throwing spears” is an outrageous misrepresentation of their actions and borders on interfering with their rights which we take extremely seriously!
Mr. Cona must remember that the leaders of our Hillsborough School Employees Federation are the employees who work for Hillsborough County Public Schools! Having a personal desire to privatize the jobs of a group of concerned public school employees, does not justify the accusations he made on May 7, 2019. Custodians, teachers, other support staff and our community have the right to exercise their freedom of speech and have done nothing more than express their justified concerns in a professional manner.