May 16, 2012 - By Trevor Keiser
Next Wednesday: That's the day, Lake Orion School's Assistant Superintendent of Business and Finance John Fitzgerald hopes to bring his recommendation to the board as it relates to privatizing school custodial services.
Fitzgerald said the Request for Proposal (RFP) committee has inspected facilities the past two weeks and the feedback they've received from different personnel are, "the keys are really tied around the management of programs.
"Specifically on the district communication side as well as vendor communication side," he said. "One of the other themes we've been getting feedback on is the communication process has to be seamless within our programming and as a rule they've pretty much expected a six-month shape down crew settling in process when those districts made the decisions they did."
The RFP committee is comprised of facility personnel, principals, and two school board members.
"This is the group that really came together at the point of the process where there were vendor interviews going on," added Fitzgerald. "It's been kind of a vehicle going forward with respect to analysis and building the due diligence and understanding of the information we've gotten back in proposal form as well as what it means to real world application to the district communication."
The next step, noted Fitzgerald, will be another round of reference contacts at all levels.
"It's not just me calling someone in my position," he said. "We're trying to get reference contacts principal to principal, secretary to secretary, the day to day people in the facilities that will be interacting with our potential vendor and service provider."
While the process moves forward the fight against privatization is not just the union, nor the custodians themselves. Students and teachers have joined the effort as well. Gina Hensley, a junior at Lake Orion High School presented the board with petition of over 200 names of students and teachers against privatization. Hensley said from a student's point of view, there is much more to Lake Orion's custodians than just keeping the school clean.
"If I were asked to describe a Lake Orion custodian I would say, they are somebody who not only gets the job done, but also goes above and beyond doing things that are not in their job description like offering community service to students, opening jammed lockers, handing over a cell phone to a student to call home, paint classrooms the way a teacher requests, install new technology and even bringing treats every Friday for the football players who help put away lunch tables," she said. "Our custodians go above and beyond because they care about the staff and mostly they care about the wellbeing of our schools."
Hensley said taking away the current custodial staff would "change the environment" and students wouldn't feel comfortable talking to new custodians that don't value their job like the current staff. She also read a comment written by fellow classmate Daniel Ryan who said, "To say that our school custodians are unimportant is to say our school's cleanliness and physical state is unimportant."
"Privatizing the schools would hurt the students and it would be unfair to take away the lives of people who love their job so much and mean so much to us," Ryan said. "I am here to say and many other students are against privatization and we would be devastated if our custodians were gone."
However, Orion resident Matt Kramer talked in favor of privatization, emphasizing "the primary purpose the school board needs to be its fiducially responsibility to the taxpayers of the school district."
"I think it's proper for the board to base its primary consideration on the privatization bids based on the projected financial impact to the school board/ school district above all other considerations," he said. If it's the case where we can use privatization to help track set up and tear down costs relative to an event, I think that's an added value. Right now you tend to dilute it if you pay for it all out of fixed services."
Kramer said he is in favor of the board offering the local bargaining unit an opportunity to match the terms of any average bid.
"If it is reasonable for them to keep our folks here," he said. "But again I want to reemphasize I am in favor to privatization to lower our costs across the board."
Fitzgerald had estimated at the April 11 meeting privatizing would bring a savings of $1.5 million.
Shannon Shidler, head of the campus monitors at Lake Orion High School, begged to differ on the issue. He said he had friends at both Oxford and Rochester, which both have private custodial services and from what he's found out, the private companies do a minimum of maintenance.
"If something happens and something goes down, they have to bring another company in to repair that at an additional cost," he said. "That's not part of the deal that's going to come with them."
Besides just the additional cost to bring in outside companies to do maintenance that is already done in house with the current custodians, Shidler said the current staff is part of the "Lake Orion Family" who live, spend their money, and raise their kids in the community and the board won't find that if they go private.
"You go private, those people don't live here, they're not part of the community, and they never will be. I just think it's a shame." he said. "Our kids deserve the best and we have the best right now. Don't screw that up."
Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.