SCARBOROUGH, Maine – Scarborough school officials are taking a close look at the possibility of saving taxpayers $250,000 by hiring a private cleaning company to perform custodial services.
The district’s unionized custodians and the local teachers union, meanwhile, are hoping to scare school board members and local residents into believing their schools will become unsafe and unclean if they opt for the change, the Portland Press Herald reports.
“I would like the schools to stay safe and clean and keep the jobs local,” Debby Bean, a custodian at a local middle school, told the Press Herald.
Bean contends she isn’t satisfied with the district’s promise to make sure current custodians are interviewed for jobs with any contracted cleaning company. Union officials contend any jobs with a private company likely wouldn’t pay as well as custodians’ current arrangement , which includes roughly $30,000 in annual salary and full benefits for full-time employees, the Press Herald reports.
Private janitorial firms pay about $9 an hour, with no benefits, union officials contend.
“Opponents of outsourcing have put up lawn signs, passed out buttons and gathered more than 300 signatures on an online petition asking the school board to oppose outsourcing,” according to the news site. “Starting Wednesday afternoon, the opponents say, custodians, teachers, education technicians and community members will hold silent demonstrations every afternoon at each school until the issue is resolved.”
District officials have been locked in protracted labor negotiations with the Scarborough Education Association, the teachers union that also represents janitors, with little progress, school officials told the Press Herald.
School officials sought bids for cleaning services last year and three companies met the district’s criteria while offering savings of between $259,000 and $356,000 per year.
Union officials employed the same scare tactics they’re currently using to pressure school leaders to abandon the idea. They suggested schools will be less safe and clean with nonunion custodians.
They’ve also used the emotions surrounding the possible termination of 28 full- and part-time district custodians to fan the flames.
“I trust my custodial staff because I see them daily and know their names,” SEA President Justin Stebbins told the Press Herald.
While Stebbins’ concern is quite heartwarming, the real reason the union opposes outsourcing seems quite obvious: the more unionized employees in the district, the more the union collects in dues revenue.
School officials note that employees of any private cleaning company would be subject to the same background checks and state laws as current custodians.
And union leaders have failed to mention one key point – if an employee of a private company causes trouble or does a bad job, he or she will probably be fired immediately. The company will see to that, because it wants to keep the school’s business.
It’s far more difficult and expensive for a school to fire union custodians. So potentially they are far more problematic for districts.
Evidence from other districts suggests the union’s scare tactics are unfounded.
Public schools in Gorham, Maine, for example, saved about $200,000 from switching to Benchmark Cleaning, a Portland-based business. The arrangement has worked well for over a decade, Norman Justice, Gorham’s facilities director, told the news site.
“From a cost perspective, it’s definitely been good for Gorham schools,” he said.
We suspect it would be a good thing for Scarborough as well, if local residents can see past the union’s self serving motivations and support their elected officials in making a very logical decision.
By Victor Skinner at EAGnews.org
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