Laid-off workers restored to jobs All 5 are employees in school facilities in Baltimore County

June 25, 1996|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

At least five of the 18 school facilities employees scheduled for layoffs or forced retirements at month's end will retain jobs in the department, Baltimore County officials said yesterday.

New facilities director Gene L. Neff said the scheduled reduction of 18 employees threatened to drain a department already in desperate need of technical expertise. The five now slated to remain were chosen for their specific skills, such as computer-aided drafting.

Neff said he is searching for ways to keep more of the targeted workers. "It will be down to the last minute."

The 11th-hour move, which comes amid turmoil in the department, reverses decisions made early this year by former Executive Director Faith Hermann and approved by Acting Deputy Superintendent Robert H. Chapman. The job cuts were set in motion after Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione pledged to politicians and the public that he would cut 34 administrative positions systemwide.

Hermann was reassigned to the curriculum department after air quality problems forced Deer Park Elementary School to close. Chapman announced his retirement last week. And several other department employees have been dismissed.

Amid disclosures of procurement violations that put the depart- ment's management under scrutiny, many employees charged in recent months that individuals, not jobs, were targeted in the restructuring. Most of those scheduled to lose jobs are technical workers: engineers, architects, draftsmen and site inspectors.

With heightened awareness of air quality problems in schools and internal audits prompting a preliminary investigation by the FBI, the job cuts are raising new questions. Namely, if the current facilities staff can't keep schools and projects running smoothly, how can a much leaner one do so?

Also, the loss of so many employees could mean that work performed in-house will go to outside consultants -- perhaps producing higher costs for schools.

Take air quality testing, for instance. The school system's former air quality tester, who is losing his job, said a contractor's recent proposal for testing could mean a tab of $5,450 a school; in-house the same work would cost $633 for lab fees.

The employee, Reginald Ringgold, who makes $35,500 annually, was reassigned out of air quality testing a year ago. While he was performing those duties he averaged four or five comprehensive tests a year, and he said that each would have cost more than $20,000 if handled by an outside contractor, according to the school system's estimates.

Ringgold said he performed 50 to 60 cursory tests a year -- each of which would cost an estimated $2,500 on the market.

"I'd say they're going to spend a lot of money," he said yesterday. "They've already spent more than my salary testing Deer Park and Timber Grove."

He said that outside contractors recently did testing at the two elementary schools, for $28,000 and $8,000, respectively.

Roofing projects, once designed and inspected in-house by employees making $35,000 to $50,000, now require consultants who charge roughly $10,000 per design and specification, and about $375 a day for inspection and management, say facilities officials.

Recent low bids for four elementary schools ranged from about $32,000 to $45,000.

The department also is losing most of its site inspectors, who make $30,000 to $38,000 annually, and who design projects for accessibility to the handicapped, among other tasks -- jobs that will go mostly to outside contractors.

William P. Wingerd, supervisor of the Office of Operation, said minor consulting work for designing a walkway accessible to the handicapped could cost $4,000 to $5,000 on the market. The school system might do 15 to 35 such projects a year, he said.

Dunbar Brooks, chairman of the school board's building committee has expressed concern over eliminating key jobs.

"Clearly somebody will have to do [the work]," Brooks said. "Those are questions that haven't been answered to my satisfaction."

Neff said he hasn't performed a cost analysis and can't say which method will be more expensive. But he said the prospect of so much contracting has been "very much a bother," and he will be watching outside costs.

"If I see this thing is not working, I'll be making other recommendations," he said.

He would not criticize his predecessors for cutting the jobs. But he said, "I wish I had the opportunity to make the decision. It's|| TC tough decision no matter how you do it. I have to live with it. What I found is there were jobs being eliminated that we certainly had a need for."

Pub Date: 6/25/96

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