Source: Sherman Publications

Superintendent supports custodian privatization

by Trevor Keiser

May 30, 2012

(Part one in two part series)

As Superintendent of Lake Orion Community Schools, Marian Ginopolis said her main obligation is to students and providing the best education for them, which is why she supports the recommendation to privatize custodial services.

The process has been very difficult,” Ginopolis said. “It’s regrettable we have to start looking at these kinds of reductions, but it really is a fiscal or financial issue.”

At the May 23 school board meeting Ginopolis along with Assistant Superintendent of Finance John Fitzgerald gave a presentation to the board recommending the D.M. Burr Group as the custodial service for the future. The D.M. Burr was one of three vendors interviewed earlier in the year.

In their presentation they explained the foundation allowance from the governor dropped to $470 dollars per pupil-from $8,302 to $7,832 between 2011 to 2012- and retirement costs increased from 20.66 percent to 24.46 percent between 2011 to 2012. These numbers are expected to rise another three percent in 2013.

Fitzgerald said district personnel costs represent 82 percent of the budget. The expenditures for 2011/2012 are $81.2 million and with the mandated retirement rate at 24.46 percent retirement costs equal $9.9 million or 12.2 percent of expenditures by themselves.

While the district losing money, Ginopolis noted they have also made significant reductions over the past years for cost containment measures, which has included energy management, coordination of transportation routes, shared services with the county and other districts, employee concessions/contributions to healthcare, operational streamlining and program reorganization.

“We’ve made $19 million dollars in reductions since 2000,” she said. “This year alone we’ve reduced by $3 million.”

Even though they made significant reductions, Ginopolis said they’ve still had to dip into their funds in order to balance their budget and maintain their programming. The budget has gone from a high of 24 percent down to 12 percent.

“Privatization is really expected to save the district between $3.5 million to $4 million over a period of three years,” she said.

The D.M. Burr Group is projected to save $1,362,187 in 2013 as oppose to the current union custodial staff’s proposal of a 20 percent wage reduction. They will also reduce vacation days and furlough days which would save a total of $541,277.

In a general fund scenario, Fitzgerald said if everything stayed the same even with a private company they wouldn’t get out of the negative until 2016, but if they kept the current custodial staff they would still be in the red in 2017.

“That was an assumption because not everything can stay the same,” said Ginopolis. “We’re still going to have to look at other cost containment measures and we’re starting to look at revenue enhancement. We’ve already been contacted by some local colleges and universities to use our facilities for satellite programs.”

The savings from privatization will be directed towards maintenance of instructional programs such as alignment of curriculum with the mandated Common Core Curriculum by 2014.

“To redo a curriculum sounds like it’s easy, but it’s a huge task because you have to rewrite the entire curriculum kindergarten through grade 12,” Ginopolis said. “Then you have to have new textbooks and new instructional resources.”

They are looking to redo the math curriculum in 2013, which will cost $500,000 just for instructional material alone and doesn’t include staff. The new instructional resources include certain technology enhancements, such as projectors in all 275 class rooms which equals a total of $687,500.

Along with the Common Core Curriculum, Ginopolis said they also have a world language requirement beginning with the class of 2016 in which every student will have to complete two years of a world language in order to graduate. For additional staff, textbooks and materials, the school is estimating another $350,000.

“The state has really taken a stand on supporting public education,” added Ginopolis. “As a result we have to make some tough decisions. We’re not the first and we’re not the last, over half of the districts in the state are privatizing, not only custodial but a number of other services.”

With not only advanced educational requirements that are being handed down, they also have an immediate need for over $8.3 million in facility and maintenance, security equipment and site costs.

To those who argue that Lake Orion School are just following suit surrounding districts, Ginopolis said “absolutely not.”

“We’re privatizing to redirect our funding to what our core business is, which is education” she said. “We are an outstanding district, especially academically and we want to keep it that way if we can.”

She added that the performance side of the current custodial staff has never been an issue.

“While we know it’s really difficult and impacts a lot of people that are loyal,” she said. Nobody is questioning their capabilities, their abilities, or their commitment to the district.”

The board will have a couple weeks to digest the information before they make their final vote. Board President Mary Jo Burchart thought the board asked good questions with a thoughtful approach and spent a lot of time on it.

“I appreciated that,” Burchart said. “I think the presentation was very thoughtful as well, with good information in terms of approach and pretty all encompassing.”

Trustee Connie Meech said she’s waiting for as much information to come in as possible and is interested to see what will come out of the budget talks on June 6.

“It’s a hard decision,” she said. “Personally before I make a decision that’s the process I want to go through. I want to hear everything that has to be said.”

Secretary Deborah Porter referred comment to the board president. Treasurer Jim Weidman, Vice President Birgit McQuiston, and Trustees Steve Drakos and Melissa Miller could not be reached for comment.

See next week’s edition for part two: a closer look at the Request For Proposal process and more about the DMBurr Group.