Oscar Rodriguez, a custodian at Albany Unified School District, went to attend a Board of Education meeting last Tuesday. It was the first time he ever attended a School Board meeting, after working for the District for 22 years. As the District is laying off dozens of employees and taking other drastic measures to deal with budget problems, people like Rodriguez are starting to feel that they need to pay close attention to what decisions district officials are making.
“We want to know about what’s happening, ” Rodriguez said. “It’s getting tough.”
The School Board passed a resolution to lay off 31 nonteaching positions during Tuesday’s meeting. Rodriguez was not on the list because of his seniority. But two workers in his Maintenance and Custodian Department were. One of them, Eddie Meyers, was a custodian at the Albany Pool. It was a position that Rodriguez used to work on for more than a decade.
Rodriguez went to the podium and spoke to the Board before the votes were cast. He said that employees like him were of value to the District.
“People never talk about us, although we have been maintaining the schools all these years.” Rodriguez said. “We are not teachers, but we do a lot of work.”
Every morning at 5 o’clock, Rodriguez arrives at the gym at Albany High School, cleans it up, and goes on to take care of the district’s athletic fields. On a recent morning, Oscar Rodriguez was working on the Memorial Field to make it tidy for a softball game in the afternoon. In his straw hat and AUSD uniform, he quietly smoothed out the infield, sprinkled water on it, and carefully drawing new lines with lime. He said he is never bored with the work.
“I love to keep the place nice and clean for kids to play, ” he said. “Everyday I come here, I feel like it’s the first time I work here.”
He felt that he is not just a cleaning worker at Albany. He has four children at the schools. Many people know him, although he doesn’t talk much. Parents greet him, and students remember him after their graduation.
“I am part of the community, ” Rodriguez said.
He came to the country from Mexico when he was 17. After harvesting fruits on farms in Fresno for a few months, he got a job at Golden Gate Fields as a groom. A few years after that, he was hired as a custodian at the Albany Middle School. He has worked for the School District since then.
45-year-old Rodriguez remembered that his working hours were reduced during a district budget crisis a few years ago. He is worried that the current budget problem would become worse than that one. His colleague, Anthony Douglas, a chief custodian, said that there has been great anxiety among his team members.
“Each day we come to work, the only thing we could talk about is who is going to be cut, and who is going to survive, ” Douglas said.
The custodians and maintenance workers at the District has their union. Rodriguez is a member. He used to leave things to his union representatives. He did not even bother to remember the union’s name. But now he wants to know more himself.
“I will be more involved, ” he said.
He couldn’t understand many of the things Board members talked about at Tuesday’s meeting. But he was very glad that Board Member Miriam Walden addressed him. He also felt good that he got a chance to speak. But he said he forgot to ask the Boardmembers a question.
“What do you guys think of us? ” he said.