School Board meeting

DELIBERATING — The Volusia County School Board deliberates at a recent meeting. From left is Board Member Linda Cuthbert, Superintendent Dr. Ronald "Scott" Fritz, and Vice Chair Ida Wright.

The Volusia County Schools vendor for cleaning services, ABM Industry Groups LLC, came under fire at a meeting Feb. 11.

“I was trying to be kind at the beginning, but I’m over it,” School Board Member Jamie Haynes said.

School Board members described a litany of observable problems, including delays in picking up garbage and lack of basic supplies, like toilet paper and paper towels.

“A teacher should not have to put a sign outside her classroom door after two days of not having the garbage be picked up,” District 3 School Board Member Linda Cuthbert said. “And then return the next day, and the garbage still hasn’t been picked up.”

Board members were particularly frustrated that teachers have been picking up the slack.

“I’m telling you right now there are teachers in this district who are bringing in Lysol wipes. They are bringing in mops and brooms and dustpans, and some of them even have vacuums in their room that they went and bought,” Haynes said. “They are spending their time cleaning their room instead of preparing for lessons and putting their curriculum materials together.”

Cuthbert described one teacher as “begging for Kleenex since September.” According to Cuthbert, that teacher keeps her minimal supplies in a locked closet to be used only in cases of emergency.

“The job she has — it shouldn’t be begging for Kleenex tissue,” Cuthbert said.

Fifteen schools out of 85 failed a recent internal ABM inspection, according to a presentation by ABM representative Brandon Clark.

“I am going to go out and see how your scoring is done, but I don’t think your scoring is going to impress me at all,” Haynes said. “Woodward is filthy.”

Woodward Avenue Elementary School, in DeLand, passed inspection, scoring a total of 86.2 percent.

“I’m telling you right now it is absolutely disgusting to go into elementary classrooms where teachers are going to do activities on carpet. … I don’t want to see those little kids sitting on carpet, because it’s filthy,” Haynes said.

Board Member Ruben Colón, who represents District 5, covering Deltona and Osteen, described meeting representatives from other counties at schools where lunch trays from the day before littered the steps outside.

“It’s embarrassing,” Colón said. “Obviously ‘clean’ is subjective. … The conversation in April I welcome … because right now, we’re not saving one penny.”

A five-year extended contract with ABM is set to expire in 2023. Two years ago, the School Board approved an extension of its contract with ABM, at a cost of $12.4 million a year.

Board members also questioned ABM’s employee structure and treatment, with Board Member Haynes asking for a detailed breakdown of how many staff members are paid to be managers, rather than boots-on-the-ground janitorial staff in the schools.

“I want to know how many staff members, that you’re paying salaries of, that aren’t even working at a school,” Haynes said. “You said you had nine managers. So nine managers, driving around, or sitting at the Deltona warehouse hub, or whatever — why?”

“I know a lot of your employees — a lot are local kids who’ve gone to our schools. I have some former colleagues who, in retirement, want to pick up an odd job — and I know you demand a great deal from your workers with not a whole lot of pay and no benefits. I know you’re not giving overtime; I know all that extra work has to be done within eight hours,” Cuthbert said to an ABM representative.

“We encourage you to please do better,” Cuthbert added.