Ferndale Schools Considering Custodial Outsourcing (video)
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Feb. 10, 2015)
Though “it is not a foregone conclusion,” as School Board Trustee Karen Twomey said at their Feb. 9 special meeting, Ferndale Schools is considering whether they might outsource custodial positions in the district. The Board voted unanimously to direct the Clark Hill Law firm to put out an RFP to help them explore their options.
The basic reason for the proposal is financial. In an interview prior to the meeting, Superintendent Blake Prewitt explained the District’s dilemma. “We can’t have the district head towards financial deficit,” Prewitt said. “In reviewing the finances we’ve found that we have one of the lowest percentages of funding going towards teachers and among the highest going towards custodial staff.”
It is a unique circumstance. In addition to the pay disparity, Ferndale’s maintenance and custodial budget are out of line with other districts, to the tune of over $1 million per year. Prewitt said that only Madison and Hazel Park have higher paid custodial staffs, and that by moving to an outside company it could save the district as much as $900,000 a year.
There are currently 29 custodial employees.
“Our biggest worry is the 29 employees, and what their job outlook might be. There is a lot of concern for them and their families.,” he said. During the meeting Trustee Amy Butters asked to make clear in the RFP that any company coming in would give current employees the opportunity to work for them. She also asked that the unions continue to stay involved and have a place at the table as options are being considered.
Prewitt said that many school districts have already begun outsourcing staff, and that large staffing companies can be efficient because of economies of scale. Parents and teachers who attended the meeting expressed their concerns in a lengthy public comment section.
Scott Collins started off the comments, stating “There are a handful of people that are closest to our kids, And the most important thing in front of us are our kids. Those people are our teachers, Our busing staff, our secretarial staff, and our custodial staff…We are a small school and we need to remain a family of employees.” He added that his wife is a teacher in Rochester, and that since switching to outsourced employees things have been coming up missing and that his wife cannot even name any of the custodial staff.
Brooke Horzelski-Jones started working in the Harding administration building in December, but she is also a parent who wants long-term employees with a vested interest in the community and the children. She shared an example of a bus employee who took her child’s needs to heart.
“Miss Lori is my children’s bus driver and has been for years. There was a situation where my kindergarten daughter, I go to pick her up and she’s crying. She had lost a snow globe that she made that day in kindergarten for their Christmas celebration. So Miss Lori says I’ll look for it and if I find it I’ll save it for you when you come back to school. Guess what shows up at our house a few minutes later. A school bus. A school bus shows up at our house when my daughter is still crying that she can’t find a snow globe. Miss Lori found our address, must have called the bus depot to get our address to bring it to our house. How special it was that? That is not going to happen when districts outsource things,” she said.
Although the discussion is on custodial staff, many districts have also outsourced bus drivers and there is a fear that if Ferndale outsources this, it may start a trend of outsourcing other jobs too. This is not the case. Prewitt stated in the interview that the District had looked at potential savings but would not likely be outsourcing other positions because there would not be a cost savings. “We’ve looked at other employees and this is the only area where spending is so out of line that we need to address it. There is no significant savings in outsourcing bus drivers,” he said.
In addition to concerns over safety and care, some felt that outsourcing was a way to get around employee unions. Charlie Morgan said “If you are going to cut the people who are so valued in terms of their performance then you should continue to bargain in good faith with their union and not come up with some off the cuff type decision to cut everybody. Everyone who works for this district should be accountable for their performance. If you have those who are not doing their job, then you should address those people accordingly. Do not make the entire staff suffer for those who you think are not doing their job. The other thing that’s going to happen here is if you do privatize, is you’re going to lose the pride of performance. I know a lot of these people. We’re not just talking about paper and pencils and equipment and so forth. We’re talking about people’s lives. You need to consider, and continue to bargain with them accordingly.”
“It’s sad that the state has put us in this position,” Prewitt said. “I am a former member of the MEA[Michigan Education Association] and as an administrator I’ve worked with union members at my previous districts. I know how important this is. …But we have to work through the financial issues. And we have to allocate more money to the kids. There have to be areas we cut.”
Gathering RFPs will help the Board have a more complete picture of what the options are. They are hoping to discuss these options at the April 20th Board meeting. Twomey also emphasized that the union is encouraged to submit a proposal as well.
“Being one of the later districts to do this, we can ask the delving questions. I’m in a building that outsourced and I know a lot of things that didn’t go well, and I talked to a lot of other board members from other districts where things didn’t go well. So I hope that we’ll have our eyes wide open to some of the challenges ahead of this,” Twomey said.
“This is the beginning of a process and we’re all going to be talking a lot bout all these issues. I will say that as a board we are put into a very difficult situation where there’s a responsibility we have to look over the financial situation of our district, and this is going to be part of that process. But its also a community and I definitely agree that’s something we include in our thinking about what we end up doing,”said Trustee Amy Butters
Ferndale Schools is also going through a restructuring process, and is likely to close school buildings. For more on this go to https://oaklandcounty115.com/2015/01/28/ferndale-schools-tackling-challenges-with-discussions-on-restructuring/.
NOTE: This story has been updated to attribute a quote to Butters and another quote to Twomey. Their names were accidentally reversed in the original post.
Ferndale Schools Considering Custodial Outsourcing (video)