Detroit Office Employees Present Cost-Saving Ideas

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The report, "A Stronger Detroit for Our Kids: A Proposal for Stronger Detroit Public Schools," was prepared by the Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees. It calls for union-management collaboration to reduce student absenteeism, centralized record keeping, and other efforts to improve service, lower costs and raise revenue for DPS. If implemented, the report says, these proposals could add about $130 million to the school system's bottom line and result in more fiscally sound, better-run public schools for the children of Detroit. (The Jan. 21 issue of the Detroit Free Press carried a story on the union's report.)

The report was developed with assistance from professor Hal Gueutal, a nationally recognized expert and author of several books on human resource management and business practices. It was prepared after extensive consultation—including one-on-one conversations, group meetings and surveys—with Detroit school office employees, who already have been working to implement improvements in their schools.

"I wasn't surprised our members came up with some great ideas," says Ruby Newbold, president of the Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees (DAEOE) and an AFT vice president. "They work in the schools every day—they know what works and what doesn't. Our proposal paints management a clear picture of what is possible through teamwork."

"A Stronger Detroit," which was presented to the school system's Emergency Financial Manager, calls for the formation of labor-management committees to further explore the ideas presented by the office workers' union. These committees would be comprised of union members, managers and senior administrators who would work together to explore ways to improve workplace efficiency, working conditions and service.

The report highlights the cost savings of four main suggestions:

1. Reduce absences and keep our children in school. Student absenteeism costs DPS millions in state aid every year. DAEOE members know the students and their families, and so have the best ideas on how to keep students in school. If the union and management work together to draw on this experience, student enrollment can be increased by 1 percent per year, which would generate $92 million for DPS over the next five years.

2. Reduce waste in purchasing supplies and equipment. DPS currently spends $67 million annually on supplies. DAEOE proposes reducing this expenditure by 3 percent per year over the next five years, for a total savings of $29 million.

3. Ensure that answers to frequently asked questions are readily available. An average of three hours per week is wasted in searching for information that should be readily available. This results in almost $1.5 million per year in lost work time, or $7.3 million over five years. Working to centralize student records and other information would greatly reduce or eliminate these costs.

4. Reduce photocopying costs. DPS spends an estimated $1.5 million annually for black-and-white copies and $600,000 for color copies, or a total of $2.1 million per year. By making an effort to centralize photocopying, $2.25 million could be saved over the next five years.

In addition to outlining ideas that work, "A Stronger Detroit" notes that privatization of the services provided by school office employees would be a mistake and would not lead to the needed cost savings and service improvements. "The track record thus far at DPS and elsewhere demonstrates that privatization has failed to produce the promised cost savings, and has instead proven to be an inefficient and wasteful strategy for providing essential services," the report says.

"Privatization would squander an undervalued resource. Eliminating dedicated employees who are invested in the children and schools of Detroit is not the right solution to Detroit's struggles," Newbold says.

AFT executive vice president Lorretta Johnson underscored the need for union-management cooperation in Detroit's struggling economy. "Teachers, school office employees and support staff, principals, administrators, elected officials, parents—we all need to be talking about how we're going to make our schools work in tough economic times."

More information about the plan also is available online at A Stronger Detroit for Our Kids. [DAEOE press release]

January 20, 2010