MICHIGAN CITY | Food, custodial and maintenance services could be privatized in Michigan City area schools as they try to close a $3.4 million budget deficit.
Bids were opened Wednesday from companies vying to operate those departments.
School district spokesperson Betsy Kohn said the board will meet next week to discuss whether enough savings can be attained from privatization to make a major difference in narrowing the budget deficit. She was not sure if the board will make a decision on the proposals that would impact 64 custodian and maintenance employees and 50 food service workers.
The board decided in April to close Elston Middle School and Niemann Elementary School and take other cost-saving measures.
Kohn said those decisions will eliminate just over $2 million of the $3.4 million deficit that remains after cuts since 2012 that shrunk the original $11 million budget hole by more than $7 million. The initial cuts included eliminating 100 teaching, administrative and other non-teaching positions.
The latest budget trimming comes after voters in November turned down a request to increase property taxes to plug the remaining $3.4 million budget gap.
If the decision is to privatize, Michigan City School Board president Don Dulaney said the companies must hire back laid-off school workers at the same wage scale.
Dulaney said the older employees will be eligible to collect their school pensions while earning wages and benefits with their new employer.
He said the employees are represented by the Michigan City Federation of Teachers, which can't stop the privatization due to a stipulation in the agreement that allows for privatization after employees are given a 90-day notice.
Dulaney said the board will meet in executive session Monday to review the bids, then meet Wednesday to publicly reveal the bids and go over the figures.
The Indiana State Teachers Association is against privatization, which has occurred at some levels in some financially squeezed school districts in the state.
Barb Deardorff, Uniserv director with the ISTA, said she's not sure, though, if any other Indiana school district has privatized at such a high level as Michigan City is proposing. She said school corporations that privatize must come up with enough cash up front to meet their pension obligations for the outsourced workers.
Deardorff cited other drawbacks, such as schools losing control over matters from disciplining workers to the cost of meals.
Unless the services are privatized, Dulaney said all of the workers will be cut to 29 hours a week, which means the loss of health insurance.