Clawson school board votes to privatize custodial services

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published August 12, 2015

 Dan McHale, custodian and Clawson AFSCME union representative, speaks to the Board of Education during the Aug. 10 meeting. McHale asked board members not to vote in favor of outsourcing the district’s custodial services.

Dan McHale, custodian and Clawson AFSCME union representative, speaks to the Board of Education during the Aug. 10 meeting. McHale asked board members not to vote in favor of outsourcing the district’s custodial services.

Photo by Victoria Mitchell

The Clawson Public Schools Board of Education voted Aug. 10 in favor of privatizing its custodial services, a move supporters say will save the district $300,000.

The Clawson High School media center held a full house of attendees for the meeting. The final tally was 4-3 in favor of entering into a three-year intergovernmental agreement for custodial maintenance services with Ferndale Public Schools to utilize that district’s private firm, GCA Services Group.

Through the agreement, Clawson Public Schools will outsource its custodial services with GCA Services Group employees and lay off 13 custodians employed through the district.

“This is really an agreement that is beneficial to both districts,” said Ferndale Public Schools Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Thomas Shelton. “It really is a win-win for all of us.”

Shelton said the biggest benefit is economies of scale for purchasing supplies and sharing staff and resources.

Shelton explained to the Clawson school board during the meeting the process his district went through to vet custodial service companies before deciding to go with GCA Services Group.

Shelton said the Ferndale Board of Education sent out requests for proposals to receive bids from interested vendors and conducted interviews with the respondents. The board then narrowed its choices and conducted site visits in two districts to see the prospective companies’ work firsthand. Shelton said that school officials also talked with the Ferndale custodial staff’s union representative to see if concessions could be made or an alternative agreement could be reached.

Shelton said that since the district began using GCA Services Group in July, it has been satisfied.

“I don’t want to paint a perfect, rosy picture; you know anytime you do a big transition like this there’s bumps in the road, but we are very happy with the service that we’ve had with GCA so far,” he said.

Shelton’s description of Ferndale’s process cemented Clawson trustee Kim Carlesimo’s “no” vote.

“I just feel that we were also elected to do the same thing that you guys were hired and elected to do, and I’m not comfortable with the fact that we didn’t do a request for proposal; we haven’t gone to the union apparently,” she told Shelton during the meeting. “So, I actually believe had we done that ... I may have actually said, ‘Hey, GCA would be the way for us to go.’”

Carlesimo said privatizing custodial services may or may not be the right move for Clawson Public Schools, but she doesn’t know because the board didn’t receive needed information.

Superintendent Monique Beels brought the privatization matter to the board in June, stating she had met with Ferndale Public Schools regarding the partnership.

Clawson school board trustee Andrea Hodges said there wasn’t enough information or details in writing to make such an important decision.

Hodges said the savings was not clear, as the district is now responsible for uncertain add-ons to take care of district buildings and grounds. Trustee Thomas Reed was the third “no” vote.

Clawson Public Schools Director of Business Services Tammie Schadd said the district is saving about $300,000 with the vote, and it will raise the district’s fund balance to between 2.8 and 3.3 percent of its budget, depending on unemployment costs.

The district is trying to reach a fund balance — or rainy day account — of 5 percent of its general fund budget. The 5 percent number is a goal of the superintendent and recently was identified as a benchmark in Michigan with the school finance early warning legislation that Gov. Rick Snyder signed on July 7.

John Gierak, an attorney for Clawson Public Schools, said that package of bills was designed to keep Michigan districts from going into a deficit by catching problems as soon as possible so a local intermediate school district could provide assistance for a period of two years before the Michigan Treasury Department would step in.

Working toward the district’s financial security is why board President Jessica Back and trustees Kevin Sheridan, Ethan McClure and Kevin Turner voted in favor of privatizing its custodial services.

“First and foremost, I want to support the superintendent and her team. It’s her recommendation after much deliberation and thought with council, with the business director and her leadership team,” Turner said. “The board has given her a goal of 5 percent fund balance, and without passing this, this will be impossible for her to meet this goal.

“There is no one in the district, no one in the state, no one in the world that knows the district’s financial condition better than our business manager and superintendent. They know it very well.”

Turner said he believes the district’s buildings will be better served through GCA Services Group, and other Oakland County school districts outsource custodial services.

“Voting yes will tell our community that we are being good stewards of their money by making a decision to maintain our schools in a much better manner than we have in recent years,” he said.

Turner said a yes vote also meant the district supported its teachers by not asking them to take more concessions.

“A no vote would mean layoffs and higher student-teacher ratios and further requests to teachers and administrators and all employees for more pay cuts,” Turner said. “A yes vote does not mean that I don’t respect the jobs and professionalism of many of our custodial staff.”

At the end of the vote, members of the custodial staff who were present were consoled by family members while trying to collect themselves.

“Disappointment,” said Tony Dematties, head night custodian at Kenwood Elementary School, following the vote. “I don’t think they know all of the facts that they needed to have.”

Jeanette DiFlorio, of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25, spoke on behalf of Local 202 representing the custodians. She said she wished she would have been approached by the district. She said the union’s contract is up in 2016 and could be reopened this year and next.

“We have not been asked to sit down and talk about it,” DeFlorio said. “In fact, the local officers couldn’t even get needed information.”

DeFlorio said she is wary that there will not be a savings because of additional costs for the district detailed in the agreement.

“This is a small community,” DeFlorio said. “They should be sticking together.”

Beels denied accusations that the union was not contacted.

“We have been meeting with the union, and we have entertained a proposal with the union,” she said.

Schalm secretary Sue Schlenker said that without the custodians, her job, teachers’ jobs and other jobs in the school building would become harder. She said the custodians do much more than keeping the buildings clean.

“He’s (custodian Dan McHale) there if a stranger comes into the building and I have a weird feeling, and Dan will walk them to where they go so that we know that the kids are safe,” she said. “What’s going to happen if a kid throws up on the carpet and it needs to be cleaned up right away? Who is going to do that?”

Schlenker questioned whether or not employees of GCA Services Group would rifle through trash bins to find a retainer or fix a child’s glasses.

“I think, five years down the road, is it going to make a difference?” she said. “Are Clawson schools going to be fine because of this one decision? I don’t think that we’re going to get the support we need from outsourced employees.”

Back urged community members to reach out to their elected officials in Lansing to increase funding for public education.

“The state of Michigan, it seems to be on a system process of defunding public education,” she said. “That is appalling to me.”

The decision for Back was painful, as she pointed at the state for cutting public education funding while at the same time demanding certain financial benchmarks.

“I’ve been on the board for two and a half years, and I have to say it’s been the hardest two and a half years in this district, and it’s not easy to come here and be the bad guy,” she said.