SL school board votes to privatize custodial services

The Spring Lake school board voted Wednesday to privatize custodial services for the district, effective July 1. In two unanimous votes, the board awarded a three-year contract to Reliant Professional Cleaning and to lay off the district's 12 custodians. The move will save the district $314,000 per year over its current arrangement, Spring Lake Public Schools officials said.
Jordan Travis
Jun 16, 2011

During the meeting’s public comments, several people pleaded emotionally with board members to keep the custodians, as well as questioning the quality of work performed by private contractors.

Debra Scholz, the president of the Spring Lake Educational Support Personnel Association — which represents the school district’s custodians — told board members that she received no response to two proposals she submitted, both offering concessions like wage rollbacks and higher insurance premiums for custodians.

SLPS Superintendent Dennis Furton said after the meeting that he and other administrators had not responded to either of the proposals — the first of which the district received June 6 after Furton had set a June 3 deadline for the custodians’ proposal.

“At that point, we had to go with what we had,” he said, referring to the proposal and bids from three private contractors.

Scholz and other custodians said they saw the lack of response as an unwillingness to negotiate.

But Furton said that the custodians’ original proposal had to stand on its own merits, as well did bids submitted by private companies.

“I’m really disappointed in the school district,” Scholz said after the meeting.

“Community” was a common theme among the audience members who spoke during public comments. Most questioned whether employees of a professional cleaning service would take the same pride in their work or treat SLPS students as well as the current custodians do. Others, including maintenance worker and union steward Jim Peterson, questioned the quality of work performed by Reliant.

“I have a daughter-in-law who works in day care for Mona Shores (Public Schools, which uses Reliant’s cleaning services),” Peterson said. “She told me that maintenance workers will clean up vomit in a classroom when they get to it — that could be an hour or the next day.”

One subject of contention with maintenance workers is the 8-9 percent fund balance that SLPS officials say they will maintain in the district’s general fund expenditures, under the new budget. Many speakers Wednesday asked the school board why they didn’t use this money instead to keep custodians working.

Before voting on privatization, board members heard a budget presentation from Scott Powers, the district’s chief financial officer. He told them that a fund balance of $1.93 million will cover about five weeks of school operations in the event of a state government shutdown.

“It doesn’t go very far,” Powers said.

The board also approved a budget that spends more than $24 million districtwide. Powers gave a presentation showing the challenges he and other administrators faced in balancing the school’s budget.

Other cuts or savings in the district budget include the layoffs of teachers and paraprofessionals, the elimination of mid-day busing, and the sharing of three supervising positions. Administrative staff also accepted an insurance plan requiring them to pay more, Furton said.

Audience members were not the only ones to show emotion at Wednesday’s school board meeting. Board President Dina Horne’s voice broke as she read a statement she prepared ahead of the meeting.

“I feel the weight of this decision,” she said. “I know these words sound hollow, but we appreciate everything these custodial workers have done for us over the years.”

Prior to the vote, Board Secretary Dennis Devlin stressed that the decision to privatize was a hard one, but ultimately necessary.

“You know what happens when we run out of our fund balance?” he said. “We get one of those financial manager bozos who get rid of our contracts, get rid of our superintendent, fire our teachers and run our school.

“No one here wants to vote to get rid of our current employees,” Devlin added.

Comments

workinggirl

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained personal attacks. Discussion Guidelines

Gruff

They can apply to the new company...But being Union people I am sure they will exhaust the unemplyment as long as they can...

Gruff

Good for the Board. We need more of this..Saves the system money. Why would anyone object.I hope the current workers will apply for jobs with the new company. They should get first choice..

workinggirl

Tell me, would you work for the same company doing the same job at HALF the pay, and NO benefits??? That's why people are in the mortgage and credit card mess in this economy! They don't make enough money to cover the rising gas, food, and cost of living increases!!! Do you like YOUR tax money to leave the Spring Lake community??

Gruff

Welcome to the real world. Majority of people are doing that now...Goverment spoiled you people.Take the job and see what happens..

maryconran

I would apply but at minimum wage, I won't be able to pay my mortgage..could you?

workinggirl

Yeah, because people who have worked 10+ years at the same place don't deserve all the unemployment benefits, right? Damn those leeches! Especially when the majority of those workers are middle aged to older citizens who may struggle even harder to find other work than a young person would.

LakerTown

It is not the school districts job to make sure people can cover their credit cards and afford the price of gas. School districts are a business, a business that is trying to educate children and give them skills they will carry for the rest of their lives. As a business, when someone presents you with an opportunity to save $314,000 you look very hard at that opportunity. The custodians missed the deadline to present thier counter proposal. The school district made a tough, but correct, decision. The custodians are great people and they will be missed but in this economic crunch this was the right choice.

theQuin

Sadly, now all these people will be on unemployment. There IS a cost, one way or the other.

neverstoplearning

The school district approved a budget that has more spending than income. They chose to use 800,000 of reserves to balance the budget. They made this choice to minimize the number of cuts that had to be made. They have a very difficult job to do and it is unfair to criticize the decision without a legitimate argument.

Do you really think they should have passed on 300,000 savings? Do you think they should have laid off more teachers instead? Do you think the school district should keep overspending and hope that more money comes their way down the road?

C'mon people - this is a decision that had to be made. I'm sorry for those who are losing their jobs. I know how it feels. Difficult as it is you need to pick yourself up and move on. My mother taught me that life is not fair and sadly she was absolutely right.

bob

So you would rather sit on your butt then take a job to be a productive member of socity ? that is a big problem these days. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself get back up and take any job you can to help pay your bills and look for a better one. Or is it that your afraid you wont be able to handle working for a company that wont let you sit around and not do your job ? Couse im sure this new company will be ontop of these people to be productive.That how a business is run !

A

I'd like who is moderating this discussion to remain neutral when doing so, because I was informed a comment was removed due to "attacks", yet I spy several snide comments directed people who aren't even here to defend themselves.

bob- Who sit around and do nothing? Would you like to point out any specific problems with the way the school looks, inside our out? Didn't think so.

If the school is such an economic crunch and are a "business", perhaps they should of considered what was down the road instead of building an wildly expensive aquatic center that I believe hasn't even broken even yet, so they're using general funds to cover the shortfall. Looks like a pretty poor business decision.

LakerTown- Sadly, you're misinformed. The current Maint dept works 3 different shifts on 3 different school buildings, so already there it's hard to "come together" and discuss their course of action. That's beside the point, the board VOTED to just privatize now and NOT CONSIDER FURTHER negotiations with the current Maint dept. Good job passing judgement on something you know nothing about though.

LakerTown

How do you think I am misinformed? I said they missed the deadline, which they did. I didn't call them lazy or irresponsible, I said they missed the deadline, which is a fact stated in the article as quoted by Dennis Furton. I didn't pass judgement but thank you for misunderstanding what I said and responding with snide comments, which you seem to love to point out but don't read your own writing. Good luck to you.

Zeke

My heart truly does go out to those who have lost their jobs, and I'm grateful for all the work they've done to keep the school looking nice and treating students and faculty well for many years. I also hope that they will not take this decision personally and now that the decision has been made they would try to process it as well as they can and have a positive attitude about the future. That will not only help them find jobs, it will also allow them to be celebrated and honored for all the good they've done and leave with dignity.

I also think the community should be grateful, as I am, for the hard work of the board members. I cannot imagine the difficulty of having to make that decision, and I know that as a community we have elected fantastic people to that board, and they are all the kind of people who lose sleep at night over even one person losing their job.

THANK YOU, custodial staff for all of your hard work and dedication.

And THANK YOU, school board for working so hard to take seriously your responsibility to be responsible with taxpayer dollars, while also being aware that real people are impacted by your decisions.

Untater

Well, this is awesome. The district made a great choice. Imagine people actually working hard to save money. Bringing competitive bidding to the schools! That's right competitive bidding, the district found a way to do the same job for less. Every business across America is doing the same thing, finding cheaper and better ways of doing things. Maybe next the district should ask teachers to work full time (all year long). Most people have to work full time to receive the type of benefits and pay a teacher gets, so next summer break make the teachers clean the school for the summer with no extra pay. Saving again, Way to go SL. Love ya!

Koop

Do you know what kind of people work for minimum wage and no benefits. Not the good kind. Mostly the dregs of society. Wait until this "great American business" hires a convicted pedophile and that person is stalking the halls of SL.

collegestudent

You should get your information straight before you post something online. For one there is a extensive background check for anyone to work in a school, even to volunteer at one. Second I am so disappointed in some individuals for judging others without even knowing them. I cannot believe you would automatically depict someone of being a pedophile because they work for minimum wage. I am sure you have worked a minimum wage job at some point in your life. Does that make you a convicted pedophile? I happen to be someone who works for minimum wage, I go to college full time and work five to six hours a day, and I would consider myself to be a great citizen. I do not at all appreciate your comment, although I respect your right to say so. The decision the district made was a great one, regardless of how hard it was to make.

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