Letter: Decision to Outsource Custodians Was 'Difficult'
School Committee Chair Kimberly Page addresses concerns regarding the outsourcing of the schools' custodians.
To the editor,
The people of North Kingstown recently received a mailer from NEARI- National Education Association Rhode Island. The flyer described a company to which the North Kingstown School Committee recently outsourced the custodial services, GCA. The flyer stated GCA hired rapist and sex offenders to perform janitorial services. This is NOT what is happening in North Kingstown.
The School Committee terminated the 26 school custodians on June 25. On July 1, GCA hired back 20 of the 26 custodians who had a clean BCI or a background check. The school district ALSO checked all the employees. Essentially the "new" custodians had two background checks - more than any other employee in the school district who we only check once on their date of hire. Since 20 of 26 were re-hired, citizens and the students should see the same people cleaning the rooms and halls of the schools. I do not know why six of the custodians chose not to apply to GCA.
This was a very difficult decision to outsource the custodians. The School Committee has negotiated with the ESP Union (Educational Support Professionals) for the last 20 months and we have not reached an agreement. For last school year, the School Committee forecasted a deficit due to our spending more for salaries and healthcare than we budgeted. North Kingstown was fortunate to have a mild winter so the schools’ heating and snow plow costs were well below what we had budgeted. We ended the year with a surplus. We do not believe we will be so lucky in the future; nor is luck an appropriate means of budgeting.
The ESP union offered substantial cuts to their benefits prior to our decision to outsource. However, their proposals only gave the district cuts for one year and every year the school district budget has increased by 10 percent or more in healthcare costs, pensions rose more than 2 percent, and the district has cut much more than our budget has increased. The School Committee contracted with GCA because they offered an enhanced wage, more than the two other companies that bid. The committee also gave all custodians one month of healthcare to cover the transition time so there were not gaps in care from the school district health care to GCA health insurance.
We know this change is difficult for the custodians and their families because they had their healthcare costs increase, their pension turn to a 401(k) rather than a state pension and their wages lowered so they are in keeping with other custodial services. The School Committee is between a rock and a hard place. Our former custodians were loyal and hard-working employees. For the last year, the committee heard many citizens take us to task for our spending and we know no one wants tax increases. We are trying to cut costs in non-education areas as much as possible. North Kingstown School Department’s mission is to educate, to inspire and to challenge our students.
We have more than 4,000 students who count on getting a quality education in North Kingstown. To work toward that mission and keep the promise we have to their families, we need to cut costs and unfortunately the custodial services was the area that we could get a large savings and impacts education the least.
Kimberly Ann Page,
NK School Committee Chair,
24 Eden Ct, NK, RI 02852 294-6378