Reluctant Farmington school officials outsource custodial services

Farmington Public Schools trustees voted Tuesday to contract with Flint-based D.M. Burr for custodial services, while likely keeping transportation services in-house.

Superintendent Dr. George Heitsch said the custodial bargaining unit “worked very diligently,” but could not match the savings expected to come through outsourcing. In 2011, custodians agreed to more than $2 million in wage cuts, increased health care costs and other adjustments, so there was “not much left to offer us in the way of concessions,” Heitsch added.

Trustee Jessica Cummings asked Heitsch to address community concerns regarding safety, quality of services, and the actual amount of savings from the contract. He said the request for proposals issued over the winter laid out expectations that quality and safety procedures would mirror those the school district already has in place. Savings, he said, are “in excess of a million dollars.”

In response to Trustee Terry Johnson’s question about whether D.M. Burr would hire existing staff, Heitsch said the contract gives them preference, though he anticipates some will not feel comfortable working for the company.

The contract was approved with a 5-1 vote. Trustee Dr. Murray Kahn opposed the measure, and Trustee Terri Weems was absent.

“This is a vote that I sincerely had hoped never to have to take in my service on the board,” said Howard Wallach, who serves as board president. He said a big component of the decision is the district’s contribution to employee retirement, which has increased to between 26 and 27 percent. “Before we open our doors, we’re 30 percent behind the eight ball.”

“This is very, very difficult for us, because you’re part of this community,” Vice President Sheilah Clay said. “I know the sacrifice you made before. I want to thank you for the love, the dedication, and the care you have given to all the children and teachers in the building in this district.”

The custodial contract begins July 1, 2016. Transportation employees got better news, although their contract is contingent upon other bargaining units approving a change in health care. The original proposal would have triggered approval of outsourcing if all units failed to approve by May 16; Kahn and Trustee David Turner were not comfortable with that provision.

“I think people have made such sacrifices that to have an automatic dissolution of the contract isn’t fair to them,” Kahn said.

The final motion, which passed 5-1, requires the contract to come back to trustees if the May 16 deadline isn’t met. Wallach cast the opposing vote.