110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Al Everson
posted Feb 18, 2013 - 6:32:59am
After almost five hours of analytical presentations and impassioned remarks, the Volusia County School Board voted 3-2 to contract with private firms willing to take over work now done by its own custodians and maintenance personnel.
“We’re going out in new territory,” School Board Member Candace Lankford said.
A crowd of custodial and maintenance workers attended the Feb. 12 meeting.
The School Board’s split vote is not the final move. It authorizes the school-district administration to issue request proposals from prospective contractors, who would make their best bids to take over janitorial work and grounds maintenance at schools and other buildings.
Schools Superintendent Margaret Smith proposed the policy change.
“I have made this recommendation in order to help save the students and classrooms from further budget cuts,” Dr. Smith said. “It is heart-wrenching, impacting our custodial and grounds-care employees.”
About 485 employees are directly affected. Many of them showed up to hear, and help form, the debate.
K. Radford, a custodian at Freedom Elementary School in DeLand, had a different money-saving idea.
“In other districts, board members are volunteers. If they want to do something, why don’t they give up their pay?” she said.
The five elected Volusia County School Board members each earn $34,010 a year.
The proposal to contract with private maintenance firms is the latest austerity measure, following five years of budget cuts as a result of a continuing economic slump, reduced state appropriations for education, declines in revenues, and the rejection in the fall by Volusia County voters of a 1-mill add-on property tax.
That tax would have generated an estimated $25 million in new revenue each year for the next four years. To close the gap between estimated spending and revenues, Assistant Superintendent for Financial Services Robert Moll said some teachers may also have to be cut from the payroll during the 2013-14 fiscal year.
“This is my sixth year in this position. Every budget has been a difficult one,” Moll said. “Discussions like this are very, very difficult.”
The School Board confirmed the janitorial and maintenance jobs will be cut.
“The vote tonight is the elimination of those positions?” School Board Chairwoman Diane Smith asked District Chief Counsel Michael Dyer.
“That’s correct,” Dyer said.
If the outsourcing goes forward and a contract is awarded to “the lowest responsible bidder,” he said, “the last day of employment will be June 30.”
To cushion the blow, the School Board will include in its RFP a requirement that the winning bidder hire the School District’s current employees, if those workers are willing to accept the job. Dyer said the RFP provision is “mandatory, not permissive.”
The School Board’s decision to privatize work now done by its own blue-collar staff is supposed to save between $4.5 million and $6 million per year.
If the proposals from the companies competing for a contract with the School Board do not show “substantial” savings — well below the almost $18.6 million allocated this year for janitorial work, maintenance and groundskeeping — Dr. Margaret Smith said she will not recommend making the change.
The cautionary expressions were not comforting to employees who stand to be axed. A union president questioned what working conditions would be under a private contractor.
“I did not hear anything about a 40-hour week,” said Thomas Wenz, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 850.
“We are now throwing people to the wind,” he added. “It is time for every employee of this district to say, ‘Enough is enough.’”
“As a husband, father and grandfather, I need my job,” said Robert Armstrong of Orange City.
“It has a huge humanitarian cost, hundreds of people,” said Sarah Jones of Port Orange.
Jones said the explanation of how money would be saved was “ ... not to clarify but to mystify.”
Privatizing had its supporters, as well, even if they were not as numerous as the critics.
“You’ve got a difficult decision here tonight because Volusia County is in a difficult position,” said Jim Cameron, vice president of governmental relations of the Daytona Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Anyone can bid. Employees can bid through the contract-bargaining process. ... Are we thrilled about this? No, but we’re saying, ‘Do what you have to do.’”
“People’s jobs and careers are at stake, but you’ve got to think about the jobs and careers of our students,” Nancy Holman, of Ormond Beach, told the School Board. “This will have the least impact on our students.”
When the board voted, Lankford and Board Members Linda Costello and Stan Schmidt formed the majority, while Chairwoman Smith and new Board Member Ida Wright dissented.
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