Update from President Daniel DiClemente: The Support Staff that Supports Students

Update from President Daniel DiClemente: The Support Staff that Supports Students
September 20, 2021

I hope all of you are as well as you can be.

Below is an e-mail that I just sent to the Superintendent and the Board of Education.

Dear Superintendent Myers-Small and Commissioners: 

Last year, when 245 security and food service workers were laid off, we shed a lot of tears with our fellow BENTE brothers and sisters. One story in particular stayed with me as it summed up the devastating and lasting effect. 

There was a School Sentry (SSO) who walked home every day after work with the students that lived in his neighborhood. They respected him for the simple fact that he lived amongst them. Their principal didn’t, and neither did their teachers. They would ask him how he afforded the car in his driveway, and he would tell them: “You can have nice things, too. If you work hard and have a good job with benefits, do a couple of jobs on the side, you can make something of yourself.”  

When he was laid off, the same students in his neighborhood quipped: “How’s that job working out for you… How’s your health care? We saw on the news they took it away.” 

We have been trying to work collectively with the District this year in an effort to fill the positions that were vacated – and there are more than one hundred in clerical, food service, custodial, maintenance, transportation, and security. We had some of our workers appear on the news to illustrate the fact that you can make a decent living working for a District that cares about its employees. We are trying to encourage people to come and work here because we understand the importance of having enough staff to transport, greet, and feed the kids, clean the schools, and keep them safe. 

Lately, I feel like we are peddling a lie.  

Here’s why: 

  • Incentives for Bus Drivers are the norm for contract bus companies (First Student pays $3,000). This money is paid for through the money the District provides the contractors to transport our kids. To get the RCSD to offer the same incentives to their own employees is like pulling teeth.
  • The Superintendent delivered this week’s video message from the “First Student Transportation Center, one of the main hubs of transportation for the RCSD”.  What a slap in the face to our own drivers, who drive buses with “Rochester City School District” advertised on the side of the vehicle and have a hub on Hudson Avenue. The impact to students this year would be minimal if we would just concentrate on building our own workforce. Greece, Webster, Brockport, Spencerport all have their own fleet, just to name a few. Brockport built its own brand new 27,900 square foot Transportation Facility in 2011 with State funds: Brockport’s New Transportation Facility  Spencerport has more internal bus driver positions than we do at 105 Bus Drivers. 
  • Monroe County provided their workers with hazard pay last year, while the RCSD provided no extra compensation to the essential workers needed to make schools run. A couple of our members passed away last year due to Covid, and many made $12.50 an hour to put their life at risk. Government leaders like Mark Polancarz in Erie County recognized the sacrifice essential employees made and he used millions in American Rescue Plan monies to pay them backpay for hours already worked during the pandemic: Millions In Hazard Pay for County Employees 
  • Food Service staff in the cafeterias are doing the work of two to three people because they are not fully staffed and they get no extra compensation for it despite my repeated requests. Many don’t have porters and must lift items heavier than they can handle, causing risk of injury that will create even more vacancies. 
  • For every little thing, we are told there is an internal process that needs to be followed, and if it clears that hurdle, then it goes to the Board for approval. Meanwhile, supervisors are being hired through the temporary agency at enormous sums of money with no oversight. The former Director of Transportation, Custodial, and Safety and Security are all back on the payroll. 
  • We did everything we could to get our CBA ratified as soon as possible to get the new hiring rates out to the public in an effort to recruit staff. But our members have yet to receive their raise and we were just told that they won’t receive it in their next paycheck on September 24 either. They are still currently working at last year’s pay rate.  
  • Some workers who were recalled will not receive a paycheck for the time they worked last week because their name didn’t get to HCI in time, which means they won’t go to Board until September 23. They are not in the system and therefore cannot enter their time. They will have to submit a timesheet and will not get paid for the time worked last week until October 8. 

These are our members, but they are YOUR employees. And how this organization treats them – intentional or not – is contrary to the way you insist every student should be treated.  I don’t know how much we are paying RTS to get out of this mess, but I am sure it is at a cost far higher than you pay to take care of your own workforce.  

We have been championing that BENTE jobs should be filled by city high school graduates. These jobs are a way out of poverty. Instead, we continue to eliminate, discourage, and destroy any pride in working directly for the Rochester City School District. I was a Custodial Assistant working nights for a little above minimum wage at Jefferson in 1994. This job enabled me to feed my family, provide health care, build a pension, and promote through the system. We need to continue that path for city school graduates who have a home life far harder than the one I experienced. 

BENTE positions are a drop in the bucket compared to what this District spends on contractors, but it is politically savvy for an administration to proclaim that they eliminated positions in the budget, with no analysis on how much the service will cost elsewhere. Or what the price is on contracting out a service as vital as the transportation of our own kids; the safety of knowing they have the same driver every day for thirty years.  

I commend the Board of Education for pushing back on the administration’s proposed elimination of thirteen vacant Bus Driver positions in this year’s budget. But we are now up to 23 vacancies, with more retirements on the way. It is not enough to put vacancies back in the budget; we need support on incentives that will recruit and retain our own workforce in every field.  

The District should be using federal dollars to pay frontline workers hazard pay like other government agencies, especially after what they endured last year. By now, the District should be paying BENTE members the rates we negotiated in a contract that was ratified by the membership on August 9 and approved by the Board on August 10. The District should be doing the same due diligence when paying temps and contractors as it does when scrutinizing its own employees.  

Our workforce feels depleted, underappreciated, and disrespected. On their behalf, I feel compelled to let you know what they are going through. 


Dan DiClemente, President

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