By Monroe Roark
Despite the continuing
objections of its affected employees, the Henry County Board of
Education voted Monday night to accept a bid for outsourcing of
the school system’s custodial services.
The tally was 4-1, with
only chairman Dr. Pam Nutt voting against the recommendation of
Superintendent Dr. Ethan Hildreth. The board selected SSC
Services Solutions, which scored the highest of the three
finalists as determined by an evaluation committee in accordance
with the custodial services RFP (request for proposals). The
other two firms considered were Aramark and GCA Service Group.
Proposals for landscaping
services were also on the agenda, but Hildreth recommended
rejecting the bids that were received and the board agreed.
For the second straight
month a large crowd came out to voice opposition to the idea of
privatizing custodial services at the county’s 50 schools. While
only two citizens utilized the public participation option at
the April meeting, there was little doubt where many in the
audience stood as they vocalized their dissent during various
portions of the board’s discussion.
comments reiterated points made in previous meetings, such as
the $200 million decline in school board revenue over the past
10 years. He noted that this year’s budget alone suffers from
$28 million in state austerity cuts in addition to a decrease in
revenue from the lower tax base in a down economy.
“A lot of things have
been done” in recent years to deal with the financial woes,
Hildreth said, such as furloughs for school system employees and
adjustments in the school calendar among other things.
Board member Erik Charles
echoed that sentiment, citing the absence of paraprofessionals
in grades 1-2 as one example of recent cuts.
“These are no easy
tasks,” said Charles. “But we have to look at what affects the
whole system. We are trying to make the transition as easy as
Charles said that the
proposed agreement with SSC Services Solutions would require the
company to give preference to current employees. The audible
reaction of the audience suggested that most of the attendees
were skeptical of that.
Also received with
skepticism was board member Mike Griffin’s assertion that safety
would not be adversely affected by privatization of custodial
services. He mentioned safety, accreditation, academic
excellence and finances as the four main areas in which he tried
to determine what effect the proposal would have.
“When I ran for this seat
[in 2012] I promised to listen to all stakeholders on every
issue and do what is best for the kids,” said Griffin, who went
on to point out that the budget for the coming year would likely
be $10 million in the red. He credited his predecessors with
putting the school system in a position to weather much of the
financial storm, but he warned that the fund balance is expected
to be drained in three years, with much of the added costs
coming from employee healthcare.
“This is tough medicine,
and I believe we have to take it now,” said Griffin, concluding
his remarks by saying that he would support the proposal.
Nutt did not make a
public comment before casting her negative vote (which garnered
applause), although she did so afterward. As many in the
audience made their way to the exits, one person shouted, “I
can’t believe you chose landscaping over the custodians.”
“They’re not through,” Nutt replied from
the stage. “They’re not through with the cuts.”