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District to decide on privatizing custodial services

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published July 22, 2015


CLAWSON — The Clawson Public Schools Board of Education will decide next month on whether to enter into an agreement resulting in privatizing maintenance and custodial services in the district.

The controversial topic was discussed during the previous two board meetings and will be an action item, requiring a vote, Aug. 10.

Supporters of the decision say it is a financial move necessary to save the district from spiraling into financial distress and possible state takeover.

“The last thing that I want to be held accountable for is for letting the district dissolve,” said board trustee Kevin Sheridan, adding that everyone could lose their job with the swipe of a pen if an emergency manager were to step in.

Sheridan said this is a hard decision and he wishes there was a way to increase revenue, but the reality is that enrollment is dropping at the same time that the state is defunding public school districts.

“Believe me when I say we are taking this very, very seriously,” he said.

The school district said it will operate with a general fund balance — or rainy day bank account — of below 2 percent for the 2015-16 school year. The board’s goal is to stay above 5 percent. Clawson Public Schools Director of Business Services Tammie Schadd said privatization would save the district about $300,000 and raise the district’s fund balance to between 2.8 and 3.3 percent, depending on unemployment costs.

Early Warning legislation signed by Gov. Rick Snyder July 7 reiterates the importance of Michigan districts maintaining a minimum of a 5 percent fund balance.

Attorney John Gierak said the package of bills was designed to keep Michigan districts from going into a deficit by catching the problem as soon as possible so assistance could be provided by a local intermediate school district for a period of two years before the Michigan Treasury Department steps in.

“What’s going to happen is that beginning next year, July 7, all districts with fund balances of less than 5 percent over the past two years will be required to submit budgetary assumptions to the Treasury Department, and with that information, as well as the other information the treasury already has, they will determine whether or not there’s potential for fiscal stress on a district, in which case it would require enhanced reporting by a district in terms of financial information that it provides,” Gierak said.

Gierak said that if progress is not made with the ISD, then the treasury would step in to require costly enhanced reporting and auditing, and could, if deemed necessary, require takeover by an emergency manager.

Gierak said any district with less than 2,500 student enrollment that is not showing financial progress could be dissolved.

Board President Jessica Back said that although she’s deeply saddened about having to support privatization of custodial services, other district employees are shouldering the brunt of the cutbacks.

“I have real trouble justifying holding on to the custodial staff when we already cut teacher salaries, we’ve cut teachers’ salaries by 3 percent, plus we’ve asked them to take more concessions, and that is a hard thing to do and that directly affects students,” she said.

Back said the district is losing teachers because they can go to another district that has outsourced its custodial services five years ago and pay them more.

“I don’t want this stain on my soul to take the livelihood of people that are approaching retirement; that is not an easy decision to make, but I have real trouble justifying saving those 13 jobs when we are having trouble paying our teachers,” she said.

Many residents and custodial workers attended the July 13 meeting in support of keeping the custodial staff.

“Above all, I have safety concerns,” said parent Christen Wilder. “I can walk into Schalm school and recognize the faces of those people that belong there, but more importantly, the custodians know who does or doesn’t belong in a building.”

The lifetime resident and parent of two children said she is concerned that an outside company would not provide the dedication to after-school activities, fundraisers, practices and events.

“I would hope that maybe some maneuvers to streamline services and increase productivity and efficiency could be explored,” she said.

Tony Dematties, head night custodian at Kenwood Elementary School, named a long list of duties the custodians perform in addition to cleaning.

“Other attributes we bring are the familiarity of buildings, equipment, children, families and the community, and our genuine concern with keeping the children safe,” he said.

Dematties said outsourcing will hurt the district, children, staff and community.

“We are the faces of the community and we are trusted by the community and their children,” he said.

Board members Andrea Hodges and Kimberly Carlesimo said they would like more time to look into the issue and would have liked to have seen bids go out for the contract to see what is out there. Carlesimo said she is concerned that she has not seen much in writing regarding the Ferndale partnership to utilize a custodial company. A vote in favor of privatization means the district would enter a partnership with Ferndale Schools to utilize its private custodial service.

“I need to see it in writing. I need to see all the other avenues and make it to a point where that is the only thing we can do to save the district,” Carlesimo said. “I was elected to sit here, and it is my duty to answer to my constituents.”

School board trustee Andrea Hodges said she would like to see the district focus on generating revenue rather than making cuts.

“I think we’ll be throwing some good employees away just for a buck,” she said.