Source: Sherman Publications

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How do private companies compare?

by Trevor Keiser

June 13, 2012

School Board Treasurer Jim Weidman speaks at the May 23 meeting. Photo by T. Keiser
(Part two of two part series. To read part 1 check out May 30 edition "Superintendent supports custodian privatization")

The fate of the current custodial staff rests in the hands of the Lake Orion School Board members as they vote on possible privatization at tonight's (June 13) board meeting.

To help the board in making their decision, Assistant Superintendent of Business and Finance John Fitzgerald along with Superintendent Marion Ginopolis gave a presentation to the board at the May 23 regular school board meeting laying out many of the financial issues the district is currently and will face in the future.

In November 2011 the Lake Orion School Board gave direction for school administrators to develop a Request for Proposal (RFP) process for custodial services.

The process included establishing a multi-disciplinary committee, which was comprised of Fitzgerald along with, facility personnel, principals, and board of education members.

The committee was charged with determining the "right vendor fit" for Lake Orion Community Schools. The committees due diligence process included Vendor presentation and interview process, conducting facility site visits for each vendor and vendor reference checks on multiple level contacts.

After interviewing three vendors D.M. Burr Group, GCA and Enviro-Clean Services and doing the due diligence the committee unanimously recommended D. M. Burr Group.

The D.M. Burr Group based out of Flint was started in February of 1998 by David and Michelle Burr. They currently facilitate custodial contracts for more than 25 substantial institutional accounts totally approximately 7 million square-feet on a daily basis. These include K-12 school districts, colleges and universities, TRW Automotive Facilities, malls, medical complexes and governmental buildings.

Also to help defer much of the "hearsay" concerning privatization, in their presentation

Fitzgerald answered many of the frequently asked questions such as does the scope of work in the vendor proposal include the same cleaning, maintenance, event setup, classroom incidents/accidents cleanup, and other miscellaneous tasks?

Fitzgerald said the vendor will provide the exact same services.

"In some cases the service level will exceed our current program," he said. "Staffing levels will also exceed our current levels.

As for ensuring student safety and appropriate behavior of vendor employees, Fitzgerald said the vendor will perform all existing background checks as required by law plus additional testing related to drug and alcohol use.

"The vendor has an acceptable employee behavior policy that all of its employees will adhere to," he added. "The districts visited and districts referenced checked, all described the employee and student interaction as 'very similar to how it was when we had our own custodial staff after a month or two.'"

Fitzgerald also said all the districts visited or referenced checked reported no increase in theft as a result of privatization. The employee turnover rates ranged from 10-20 percent with lower rates for the daytime and lead custodians.

"The pay rates in this proposal are set to minimize turnover," said Fitzgerald. "Day and lead night custodians wage rates would start at $10.75 an hour.

He also said most of the positions will be full-time and benefits include a tiered wage structure, paid holidays, paid vacation and an ongoing training program, but specific employee insurances are not finalized at this time. The current custodial staff makes an average of $16 to $20 per hour, plus benefits.

Existing employees will have an opportunity to apply and interview for a position with the vendor and there are some cases where employees could retire from the district and go to work for a district vendor and it not affect his or her pension.

"If awarded the contract, the vendor expects to begin the hiring process immediately," Fitzgerald said. "Vendors target recruiting area is Lake Orion."

If D.M. Burr Group is awarded the contract they will begin operations on August 1.

Despite the administrations best intentions, custodian and AFSCME Local 1472 Chapter Chair for Lake Orion Kathy Sandstrom said "it's not apples to apples."

"They say they're going to clean the same way we clean, well not every building is cleaned the same," she said. "If they put into practice the way they say they're going to have them clean it will probably work, but it's not the way we do things."

Sandstrom also said they didn't see any maintenance in the bid proposal, something they currently do in house.

"If they're willing to do that to save a few bucks, which it will end up costing them," she said. "Then I guess that's what they'll do."

Sandstrom said she and another custodian plan on presenting again at the meeting.

"We're going to bring our side out," she said.

The meeting starts at 7 p.m. and is held at the School Administration Building located at 315 N. Lapeer St.