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Spring Lake school district consider privatizing maintenance

Jordan Travis • Jul 21, 2015 at 10:52 AM

Two members of the maintenance staff attended the school board’s work session at Spring Lake Middle School on Monday to express that they also felt that the district would not get the same quality of work, and that changes in utility usage made the change less imperative.

The savings would be necessary to cut $2.2 million from the 2011-12 school budget in order to ensure that the school has at least one month’s payroll and health insurance premium expenses in its funds, Furton said. It would also curb a projected shortfall of over $3 million.

The plan also would include laying off teachers and condensing bus routes, Furton said. The schools are still determining how many teachers it will need to lay off, and which administrative positions can be shared effectively, he said.

Jim Peterson, a member of the school’s maintenance staff and a union steward, said that during his 12 years working for Spring Lake schools, budget shortfalls have never been as severe as initially projected.

“Every year, we hear we’re going to have a massive amount we’re short,” Peterson said at the school board work session. “By the middle, this number goes down — and by the end of the year, we seem to have miraculously found money.”

This difference between projections and reality likely comes from overly conservative budgeting, Furton said. While administrators are looking at costs differently this time to avoid such a scenario, Furton conceded that projections for the 2011-12 budget are based on some assumptions.

A hit of $470 per pupil is one such assumption, Furton said — and, until Michigan legislators adopt a state budget for the next fiscal year, SLPS administrators have to assume that this proposed cut will happen.

“We can’t just hope for good news from Lansing,” Furton said.

The school’s maintenance workers can submit a plan to save the schools money, Furton said. He pointed out that under the management of Ted Rescorla, the schools have lowered classroom and hall temperatures. The savings, which should be “thousands of dollars” per month, ought to be considered in any savings plan the maintenance department submits, Furton said.

Furton said that the maintenance department — which consists of eight full-time and four part-time custodians — will also be allowed to submit a bid for the job.

Matt Pelt, a part-time maintenance worker for the schools, said that he has heard that school districts that privatized often regret it. The quality of service drops, and some companies will not cover after-school events, including sports, he said.

To assure that this doesn’t happen in Spring Lake, school officials would carefully screen the bidding companies, including visits to several of their clients, Furton said. Members of the company’s staff would also be required to go through background checks, he said.

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