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'Disappointed' Custodian Has Unusual Giveback For Hartford's Perez

Helen Ubiñas

June 21, 2009

Even for Levey Kardulis, this was ballsy.

The vocal union president thought, ever so briefly, that maybe he wouldn't go through with it.

But Kardulis, longtime Hartford resident, parent and head custodian for Burns School, went to the monthly school board meeting Tuesday to make a statement.

First, he addressed the board calmly — about the need to go back to basics, to neighborhood schools. He told them about confused teachers and parents trying to navigate a school system and enrollment criteria so complex that some parents are convinced Hartford's schools are private.

"If this was Simsbury, Farmington, West Hartford," Kardulis said, careful to mention the hometowns of many school administrators, "a lot of the people in this room who've been supporting what the superintendent has done to our schools would be the first ones to raise up and say my children are not going to be the experiment, they're not going to be guinea pigs."

And then he pointedly put the blame on one person in the room — Mayor Eddie Perez.

"Mr. Mayor, I'm disappointed, extremely disappointed that you've allowed this to happen."

Ouch. But Kardulis wasn't nearly done.

He reminded Perez about a program Kardulis created a couple of years back for students who kept their classrooms clean. Each month the winning classes in the Golden Broom award program got a pizza party. Last year, Perez attended and gave the school a citation.

"I hung it with pride in my office, right under my President Obama sign," Kardulis said. "Now I'm embarrassed to have that citation in my office."

He then walked up to Perez and handed it to him.

Perez looked startled.

"Sorry I gave it to you," he pouted.

Way for El Jefe to miss the point.

Considering Kardulis is union president of the school's custodians, tradesmen and food service workers, it'd be tempting to say this was a stunt — a way to embarrass leadership he insists has been unresponsive to concession talks.

Kardulis admits the day he decided he wanted the citation gone was around the same time more than a dozen workers were laid off. But, Kardulis insists, it's not just about jobs. It's a culmination of frustrations from nearly two decades of seeing firsthand the condition of the schools kids in Hartford attend, of city children treated like pieces on someone else's chess board.

The Burns classroom where we spoke reeked of mildew and mold. The ceiling sagged. The paint chipped onto the floor. But until recently, Kardulis said, it was the pre-kindergarten class.

And those brand spanking new schools Superintendent Steven Adamowski is so proud of? Well, without the manpower to maintain them, he asked, how long do you think they'll stay that way?

The other day Kardulis was at the Sports Academy's new gym and one of the teachers asked if it'd be OK to have students wash some of the windows. Union job? Forget it, Kardulis said. He told her to have at it; they need all the help they can get.

There is so much to be frustrated about inside Hartford's schools — lack of basics, of direction. But what really bothers Kardulis is that once again we've got another transient leader trying out his experiments on the city and its children in the name of change.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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