CANTON — The Cherokee County Board of Education voted to outsource custodial and grounds services at Wednesday’s meeting, a move that is expected to save county schools more than $3 million in 2014.
While many in the community have lamented the plan and what it would do the custodians at local schools, all Cherokee County School District custodians will be offered full-time positions with the company charged with taking over, school officials said in making the decision.
The board voted 6-1 to select Aramark as the company to take over the outsourced custodial services, with District 1 board member Kelly Marlow opposed.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Frank Petruzielo was given the go-ahead to negotiate a contract with Aramark and he said that although the decision was painful, outsourcing this year put the CCSD in a “much better position” to avoid outsourcing additional functions next year.
“The outsourcing of custodial and grounds service, which will not only enable us to present a balanced budget, but also will result in all of our current employees in those departments being offered full-time jobs with benefits, including healthcare insurance,” Petruzielo said.
Barbara Jacoby, school district director of public information, said Thursday the ongoing reductions in state and local funding for school system operations, along with increasing state Health Benefit Plan costs for the CCSD and employees, “forced CCSD to consider additional options to reduce expenses.”
Though the number of non-certified employees enrolled in the state health plan decreased by 123 between 2008 and 2012, Jacoby said the cost has risen from $2.9 million to $7.6 million, and is projected to cost $12.7 million for fiscal 2015.
Jacoby said Aramark has experience with providing custodial services for kindergarten through 12th grade schools, and “the contract will require the same criminal background checks as currently used by CCSD.”
School Board Vice Chair Robert Wofford and board member Patsy Jordan both said at the meeting that they spent time researching and considering the option of outsourcing, before voting in favor of the action.
Wofford said Thursday that outsourcing custodial services was a vote he “didn’t want to make.”
“I was trying to make sure our employees were treated as fairly as we could, when we outsourced them,” Wofford said about his research into the companies and proposals considered for the outsourcing services. “Are they going to lose? Yes, they’re going to lose initially.”
Wofford said there are a lot of questions that employees are probably concerned about, and said the board “tried to address as many issues as we could by picking the company that would seem to work for them.”
“It would’ve been great if the state still paid that money on their benefits and we could’ve kept them there, but that’s just not possible,” Wofford said.
Jacoby said Thursday that custodians will receive private health care insurance instead of the SHBP insurance, and said that although CCSD employees will be offered full-time positions with Aramark, “some may decide to retire to preserve their SHBP health care insurance benefits.”
“Salary and working conditions will be determined by Aramark and will be consistent with the contract that will be negotiated by the parties,” Jacoby said.
Jacoby said the district took a “three-prong approach to researching options,” that included issuing requests for proposals for custodial and grounds services, seeking other options for healthcare insurance and reviewing costs through altered workforce models.
“The research showed that privatization would yield significant savings, which has allowed for the full restoration of the 180-day school calendar for students and reduction of furlough days for all CCSD employees from eight to three, with all current CCSD employees being offered jobs with healthcare benefits by the private companies,” Jacoby said.
On Tuesday, Jacoby said that the estimated cost savings for outsourcing the custodial services starting in the fall is $3 million for fiscal 2014. Jacoby said the estimated saving for outsourcing grounds maintenance beginning July 1, is $100,000.