At a special meeting Monday night, the district’s school board listened as Director of Operations Liz Boeve outlined proposals submitted by three custodial contractors, as well as a proposal submitted by the schools’ support staff union. Several of the audience members were part of the custodial staff and voiced their opposition to privatization.
More than one of the staff members who spoke said that a private company would not take the same pride in their work or keep the schools as clean. Superintendent Dennis Furton said this morning that privatizing custodial services isn’t about whether the current employees are dedicated, or the quality of their work.
“This is about the cost the district incurs by maintaining its own custodial services,” Furton said. “It’s about cost and only cost.”
Boeve told board members that Reliant Professional Cleaning consistently provided the highest quality of service. She and others with the district toured schools and other institutions cleaned by three companies that submitted bids in April and May. Another company submitted a lower bid, but Boeve explained that feedback about Reliant’s work was consistently positive.
Pete Murdoch, owner of Reliant, was present at the meeting. He answered a question posed by board members, telling them that staff his company would bring are trained and experienced.
According to the bid, Reliant would clean the district’s buildings for $398,000 per year, Boeve said. This would include one full-time supervisor overseeing seven full-time and nine part-time custodians.
Currently, the district employs eight full-time and 4 part-time custodians, Boeve said. They earn a total of $363,000 in wages, vacation and sick pay and $251,000 in insurance and retirement costs. Combined with supplies and a part-time supervisor, the district pays $712,000 to provide its own custodial services.
Spring Lake Public Schools faces rising costs and shrinking state funding, Furton said. The district has already taken several steps to reduce its budget, including laying off teachers and paraprofessionals, eliminating mid-day bus runs and sharing supervisor positions with other districts.
Jim Peterson, a member of the maintenance staff and a union steward, said that he felt custodial workers were being unfairly targeted while other district employees were relatively unscathed.
“If you want to prove that you’re here for this district and you want this district to go, then be willing to stand up and give the same thing that we gave,” he said.
Furton said that this is untrue, and pointed out that the district staff have been affected in all departments, including administrative staff who now pay more of their insurance costs.
Included in the plan submitted by the Spring Lake Educational Support Personnel are concessions to reduce the cost of keeping the district’s custodial workers by $66,443 per year. Employees agreed to switch to a health insurance plan where workers pay 10 percent of their premium and a $100-200 deductible. They also offered to freeze their pay for three years.
Debra Scholz, president of Spring Lake Educational Support Personnel Association, spoke during public comments about the hard work put in by custodial workers. Not only do they keep the buildings looking great, she said, but they also help the students.
“We take ownership, we take pride in what we’re doing,” Scholz said. “I would like to believe that that counts for something.”
The district will make a decision on custodial services on June 15, when board members meet to decide on the district’s overall budget.