Upper Perkiomen School District officials notified employees Tuesday afternoon the district is looking at outsourcing custodial services to outside companies in an effort to slash operating costs for 2013-14.
The move would affect 21 full-time custodial and maintenance employees, 12 part-time custodians and two couriers, one district-wide and one assigned to the food services department, Facilities Director John Sheeran said Wednesday.
“The superintendent came out, said she had bad news for us,” said one full-time custodian, who didn’t want to be identified, of Tuesday’s meeting with officials. “She said they were looking at outsourcing our jobs. We would make less money and our benefits wouldn’t be the same,” he explained, saying Yonson cited a $3.5 million budget shortfall.
“My feeling is that this isn’t where it needs to be cut. They can cut in other ways instead of spending foolishly…I think they’ll be sorry with how it’s cleaned. I don’t think they’ll get the cleanliness and production out of these people. We do a good job.”
District Superintendent Dr. Beth Yonson said the district’s employees will not lose their jobs, however, if the district goes with an outside firm.
“It wouldn’t even have come to the table if our employees wouldn’t have jobs,” she said of the two companies vying to supply services. “Absolutely, without a doubt they will have their jobs.”
Yonson said employees may have to be screened by the firms and go through criminal clearance checks though.
The move was discussed in detail at a school board finance committee meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday. At the meeting, representatives from two contending companies, ServiceMaster, a national company based in Tennessee, and Marsden Services, based in Minnesota, overviewed available services to the district.
Both routinely handle cleaning, grounds maintenance and lawn mowing, snow removal, detailed cleaning, and graffiti removal for educational facilities as well as airports, office buildings and hospitals.
Marsden also provides security services as well as mechanical and HVAC services.
Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Yonson was adamant about one key factor with both companies; she wants employees to stay in their positions.
“I explained to both of you that the only way I would consider either of your companies is if you take our people (employees) with you,” she said.
School officials agree the only way outsourcing will be considered is if current staff remains a part of the school district. Director Jennifer Allebach posed several questions to both companies regarding their standards and whether they are similar to Upper Perk’s.
Charles Gibson, president of janitorial services with ServiceMaster, explained, “Employees will go through a formal orientation and we will try to match job skills based on a performance evaluation.”
Allebach also commented, “We have the most well kept schools in the area. We value our employees who have been with us for years.”
Bob Baldwin, vice president for ServiceMaster, said there is an extensive training program for employees who wish to improve on their current skills or learn new ones. He went on to say the company would prefer employees to stay as they are the most familiar with the school’s needs.
John Rice, executive director for Marsden Services, pointed out many similarities in both companies; however, Marsden offers security officers of various levels for any or all of the schools in the district - the top level being an armed security guard.
Overall savings to the district would vary with each company. ServiceMaster projected a cost savings of $214,320 for 2013-14, $296,513 for 2014-15 and $341,155 in 2015-16 with additional annual savings of $4,790 on supplies like chemicals, liners and paper. They would also lock in their prices over the three-year period to guarantee savings.
Both companies said they would keep costs down by changing the current benefits package available for the custodial and maintenance staff. Healthcare benefits would be effective immediately; however, vacation and sick time would reflect day one status of employment.
Yonson explained that about half of the staff would make more money than they are now, but their paid time off would change.
The employees would see more money in each paycheck because they wouldn’t be contributing about 7 percent toward their pension benefits through Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS), officials said Wednesday.
Marsden Services, with a local office in Allentown, is very similar as far as paid time off benefits and healthcare benefits being available on day one. The projected savings per Rice would be about $275,000 in the first year and well over $1 million across a four-year period.
Yonson spoke to the committee at the conclusion of the meeting to reiterate this is a “tough and emotional decision.” She went on to explain that outsourcing is just one of several options that would help the district keep the budget down and, in turn, keep taxes down for residents.
No one from the district’s custodial staff attended the meeting.
The custodian interviewed said he didn't attend the meeting because he was upset with the move, as were his co-workers.
The committee plans to discuss the issue further at the April 11 school board meeting.