CHESTERFIELD, Va. – Virginia’s Chesterfield County Public Schools saved $7.1 million by outsourcing janitorial work, and officials are not planning on turning back.
Superintendent James Lane told the school board at last week’s meeting that the significant savings since the district outsourced custodial services a few years ago has allowed officials to pour more money into classrooms, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.
The decision to contract out janitorial work infuriated the Chesterfield Education Association union, which stirred animosity about the deal that translated to a lot of complaints against the first vendor hired by the district, GCA service Group.
Ironically, the CEA demanded a 4 percent raise for teachers at the same time the district weighed the decision to outsource custodial work, essentially looking to redistribute the savings to higher paid employees, the Chesterfield Observer reports.
Board Chairwoman Carrie Coyner responded to complaints about bringing in a lower paying contractor by reminding folks about the district’s primary responsibility: educating students.
“It was a difficult decision, but it was a decision made for the long term,” she told the Observer last spring. “Our mission is to provide the absolute best education to every child regardless of their background. To do that, we’ve looked at every area of our operation outside the classroom.”
“The government’s role is not to provide people with jobs,” Coyner added.
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School officials documented numerous complaints during the first phase of the transition but said it was the first time that they’d recorded complaints, which makes comparing new services to prior unionized employees virtually impossible.
“Some people were quick to judge that we have a lot of problems, but we cannot say that this is the case because we did not have that kind of baseline data before,” district spokesman Tim Bullis told the Times-Dispatch.
After the first year, the district switched contractors to SSC Services Solutions, which has also worked in Virginia Commonwealth University since the 1990s. What started as an eight-school pilot project in phase one expanded to 41 schools last year and ultimately all schools for 2016-17, according to the Times-Dispatch.
School officials noted that many of the same employees who served in the schools under the unionized system are now among 500 janitors in the district employed by SSC Services Solutions. The district also kept nine employees set to retire by 2021 on the payroll, assistant superintendent for business Christopher Sorensen said.
“Halfway through the process, the school board grandfathered in those close to retirement,” he said. “We didn’t want to leave people without jobs.”
According to the Times-Dispatch:
School officials initially projected that the division would save $7.5 million over three years. But keeping the nine workers employed by the school system will cost about $400,000 between now and 2021. The school system decided to account for the $400,000 cost now.
Lane said any decision the division will make in the future related to custodial outsourcing will be focused on “whether we have the right vendor and whether they are effective, (but) not on whether or not we should be outsourcing at this point, because the cost savings are just too large.”