FPS board looks to privatize transportation, custodial services

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published February 9, 2016

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FARMINGTON HILLS — The Farmington Public Schools Board of Education voted 7-0 to receive requests for proposals from privatized transportation and custodial service companies Jan. 26.

The decision to potentially privatize could impact roughly 1,300 union members, many of whom live in the district and have children who attend community schools, said Lori Tunick, executive director for the Farmington Michigan Education Association, which oversees transportation and custodial service unions in FPS.

“We underwent a privatization threat in 2011, and the district decided to stay with (the) employees we had. We were very pleased with that — we would like to see that happen again,” Tunick said.

Superintendent George Heitsch said during the meeting that the RFP decision is part of a data-gathering experience.

“We have had conversations with both bargaining units, (the) Custodial/Maintenance/Cafeteria Association and the Farmington Transportation Association, so there is an awareness, at least, that we are considering this for information for us to have when we go back to bargaining as we complete next year’s budget,” he said.

Jeremy S. Motz, of Clark Hill’s education, municipal and real estate practice groups, said they would move to issue the RFPs in the near future, and about a month later, proposals would be due.

“It is issued to all available vendors in the transportation or custodial and grounds community. It is also provided to the current association that represents the employees here, so they have an opportunity to bid on (an) equal basis,” Motz said.

Motz added that FPS then has an opportunity to “comb through” the RFPs in detail to determine if there are any vendors, or any entities, they want to continue discussions with and have interviews with to gather more information.

After the due-diligence process is done, the information will be brought back to the school board in early spring, he said.

In 2011, the school board voted against privatization and decided to accept proposals from its custodial and transportation workers. The decision passed 5-2.

Trustee Terri Weems asked if the proposals go beyond pricing, and if there is any value associated with additional efforts, such as green initiatives and beautification efforts.

Motz said a “plethora of information” goes into the RFPs.

“They get to be a few inches thick each with all the information and expectation of information that include … programs you currently operate in your buildings … and those would all be components ... used to evaluate what options and services these vendors … could bring to the table,” he said.

Trustee Sheilah Clay said during the meeting that her comment was probably similar to one she made several years ago regarding privatization.

“The effort to even look at proposals is not necessarily something that I think the (school) board members necessarily want to do, but I think there is a fiduciary responsibility to do it in light of what is happening in our district financially,” she said.

Many school board members voiced their agreement with her.

Board President Howard Wallach said that he supports the RFP process because he needs data to be able to make an informed decision on the issue.

He added that last time, the school board was able to learn the “nitty gritty” of what the proposals really meant.

Wallach addressed some safety issues with busing privatization, saying that he would like to have a litigation disclosure provision in the RFPs.

“I want to have a disclosure of the number of lawsuits they had, what they relate to, the kinds of cases that they are and what the results were, so I think that will help on one end give us more information and perhaps squelch some rumors that you hear or perhaps read about,” Wallach said.

Tunick said the union groups have a lot of thoughts on the issue.

“We have a lot of our members who are under the threat of privatizing actually live in and support and have children that go to these community schools,” she said. “Possibly losing their positions … would devastate the area, because most people won’t be able to stay in this area.”

She added that she and others have seen local school districts privatize, and things have not turned out well.

“The quality … is not of the standard we support in FPS (and) not what we want to see in FPS,” Tunick said. “Others have complained of dirty facilities and late buses, and we don’t want to see that happen.”

Tunick said she hopes the school board has a “change of heart” and uses cost-saving techniques, although she understands why they are going through the RFP process.

She added that she would like to see good, collaborative work at the bargaining table, and the union groups are waiting to see the RFPs come in.

“We’re supposed to get the RFP back in the beginning of March, and then we’ll know more,” she said. “We’ll know … what we need to do to make ourselves as attractive as possible in comparison to those bids.”

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