Custodial outsourcing final decision delayed

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The Beloit school board voted to delay a decision on whether to outsource custodial and maintenance staff by two weeks.

The staff will have 10 days to come up with their own proposal on how to cut costs by $388,000 a year, the amount private vendor ABM could save the district.

The vote was made after discussion by Mark Geffers, union president with Local 1475 AFSCME, AFL-CIO, who asked the district to let the custodians and maintenance staff have the opportunity to propose savings in order to continue with the district. He said sick days, overtime and scheduling could be looked at in hopes of cutting costs.

“Maybe we could do some compromising,” Geffers said. “We can be creative on shifting things around.”

Geffers went on to thank the district for attempting to look out for the staff and get a good deal for them, and said he considered his shirt a “badge of honor.”

If the school board votes to go ahead with outsourcing the services the plan would take effect on July 1.

The vendor, ABM, has agreed it will hire the 55 district custodial and maintenance staff for at least five years with the same rate of pay and comparable health insurance benefits they receive from the district. It will save the district at least $330,000 in the first year and significantly more in the long-run due, in part, to the ability to buy materials in bulk.

Superintendent Steve McNeal said the decision to outsource isn’t fun or easy, but it has to be considered.

“This is a very significant savings, and these are tough times,” McNeal said.

McNeal went on to say enough teaching positions have been cut and he doesn’t want to cut any more.

“Our business is educating kids. I don’t want to keep cutting teacher spots. It’s not only painful, it’s hurting our effectiveness as a district. They are great people, but we can’t do things the way we used to,” McNeal said.

He said the district already outsources food service to Aramark, and has an excellent relationship with the company and its employees.

“We think of them as us or part of our family and yet they work for Aramark,” McNeal said.

AFSCME staff representative Jeff Middleton said he was concerned because there really are no guarantees once the employees are working for the private vendor. For example, he said a private company may not be required to provide just-cause in order to let someone go. At-will employees could be dismissed for any reason, and veteran and higher-paid personnel could be likely targets.

Middleton said he’s also concerned about the impact on peoples’ pensions, going from one of the best pension programs in the country to a private 401K plan.

He also noted that once the trucks and equipment are sold to ABM the district isn’t getting them back. If the contract with ABM doesn’t go well and the district doesn’t re-hire them, it will have lost the equipment.

Board members Missy Henderson, Michael Ramsdail, John Winkelmann, Nora Gard and Shannon Scharmer agreed the district owed it to the custodial staff to see what numbers they could come up with.

However, Henderson cautioned the custodial staff that they might find themselves better off with the private vendor ABM.

“I wonder if you’d find out you are better without the school district. Look what happened to the teachers. Nobody is getting these pensions anymore,” Henderson said.

Rand said he didn’t know how the custodial staff could arrive at enough savings without a significant wage cut. He said the decision is very painful to make, but said he just didn’t see any other choice.

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