Board delays decision on custodial outsourcing
Rockport — The MSAD 28 School Board decided to delay a decision on whether to contract with an outside vendor for custodial services until spring, when the budget for next year takes shape, at its meeting Wednesday, Dec. 11.
The Joint Committee to Investigate Contracting Custodial Services was formed in July to look into whether outsourcing custodial services would save money for the Five Town CSD and MSAD 28.
At its meeting Dec. 4, the CSD Board followed the committee's recommendation and voted not to outsource its custodial services, since no savings would result from doing so.
However, the Joint Committee's report, presented at the Dec. 3 meeting, showed significant potential savings for MSAD 28 from contracting services out to the one vendor who was felt to be a viable candidate.
With potential savings of around $138,000 on the table if the district hires Bangor-based Maine Real Estate Management, Tori Manzi, chairman of the Joint Committee and also a school board member, said she felt the board had a duty to examine the outsourcing question in the context of the whole budget.
Manzi also said the finding of significant potential savings had surprised her.
“I'll admit I was shocked when I saw there was such a big savings.”
A few dozen parents and other community members turned out for the meeting, mostly to voice opposition to hiring an outside company to provide custodial services. That work is currently done by district employees, who are members of the Megunticook Bus Drivers and Custodians Association (MBDCA).
Before taking public comment, Board Vice Chairman Eliza Haselton read a letter from resident Alex Armentrout, who was unable to be at the meeting.
The letter cited the financial pressures on the district and the towns it serves. It stated that “more than 30 percent of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch because of their parents' financial status.”
The letter went on to note the hard choices facing the school board. “This board cannot simply allow the present system to continue at the present level of expense.”
In closing, Armentrout suggested custodial employees should “find ways to be competitive with outside vendors,” so the current system could remain in place.
Many in the room who commented repeated observations and arguments made at the joint meeting of the Five Town CSD and MSAD 28 school boards Dec. 3, which was devoted to the outsourcing issue.
Manzi also reiterated that she had contacted the nine schools in the state that presently outsource custodial services or have done so in the past, and those she spoke to were very happy with the service they received. She added that the administrators she spoke with had said the hardest part of making the change was the first year.
Board member Marcia Dietrich said there was no way to know which schools might have tried outsourcing and gone back to an in-house custodial staff because contracting did not work for them.
Resident Polly Hickson made the point that since Manzi only spoke to administrators in charge of custodial services, she did not hear how teachers and other staff members felt about the outsourcing arrangement.
Another resident, James Cook, read from an article published in 2011 in the Maine Association of School Business Officials' magazine in which business managers in the Bangor and Lewiston school systems said they were dissatisfied with their experiences with outsourcing custodial services.
And MBDCA President Bob Calderwood reminded the board of the district's unsatisfactory experience with custodial vendor Service Master a number of years ago.
Manzi responded that it was not fair to compare the current situation with one so long in the past, especially since there are new buildings involved that did not exist back then.
Although most of those in attendance were opposed to outsourcing, Manzi noted, “There are people in our community who only support the bottom line, and we have to be fair to them, too.”
One speaker rose to say she worked in a building cleaned by Maine Real Estate, and “it is not clean.”
Manzi said district officials would conduct site visits and gather more information on the contractor before deciding to enter into a contract. She added the intangibles community members value would be taken into account, along with the financial aspect of the decision.
Chris Walker-Spencer made the point that the school board has a lot of support in the community, with recent school budgets passing by margins of two, three and even four to one.
In reply, Manzi said those margins were the result of the thorough process and public dialog the board engages in as the budget is put together. By looking at the outsourcing option thoroughly and considering it in the context of the budget, she said, the board would be able to gain the community's support for whatever its eventual decision was.
She stressed that neither the committee, nor the board as a whole, wanted to change the present system and the decision had to be made in the context of other budgetary decisions.
“It's by no means a done deal.”
Sarah E. Reynolds is a reporter for the Camden Herald.
Sarah E. Reynolds has been a reporter and writer for more than 20 years, winning awards from the Maine Press Association and other professional organizations. She loves to read, hike and play word games.
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