October 8, 2013

Scarborough school custodians fight to keep jobs

Contracting out cleaning services could save more than $250,000 per year, administration says.

By Kelley Bouchard kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Scarborough school custodians have started a campaign to keep their jobs in the face of a year-long effort by the superintendent and the school board to outsource cleaning duties to a private company.

click image to enlarge

Debby Bean, custodian at Scarborough Middle School, cleans desks in a classroom after the students have gone home for the day Monday. “I would like the schools to stay safe and clean and keep the jobs local,” she says.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Bean wears a pin supporting Scarborough custodians as she cleans classrooms at Scarborough Middle School, where she has been night custodian for 12 years.

The proposal, which stalled recently in protracted negotiations, would cut $250,000 to $350,000 from the district’s $1.2 million annual cleaning bill, school officials said Monday. Custodians and other members of the Scarborough Education Association said the savings could come at the cost of having unsafe, dirty schools.

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. 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.

“I would like the schools to stay safe and clean and keep the jobs local,” said Debby Bean, who lives in Dayton and has been the night custodian at Scarborough Middle School for 12 years.

Bean said she has no faith in the administration’s promise that the cleaning company will be required to interview and possibly hire some of the 28 full- and part-time custodians who work in Scarborough’s six schools.

Moreover, Bean said, wages and benefits offered by private cleaning companies likely wouldn’t measure up to the school custodians’ current pay. That’s about $30,000 per year for full-time custodians, plus full benefits, according to the superintendent’s office. Private cleaning companies pay about $9 per hour and offer little or no benefits, union officials said.

The custodians have been working without a contract and have been in talks with district administrators for months, said Superintendent George Entwistle III. Recent attempts at mediation have failed and a fact-finding session is scheduled in the coming weeks.

“The matter is being managed through the labor dispute resolution process,” Entwistle said. “We are committed to seeing the resolution process through.”

The district sought proposals from private cleaning companies last year and received three qualified bids that offered savings of $259,000 to $356,00 per year, Entwistle said. The companies were UGL, a national company with 65 employees in Maine; BSC Cleaning Services of South Portland; and Benchmark Cleaning of Portland.

Union leaders and others question how a private company would be able to ensure the level of safety and personal commitment offered by custodians employed by the district.

“I trust my custodial staff because I see them daily and know their names,” said Justin Stebbins, a teacher who has worked in town schools for eight years and is president of the Scarborough Education Association.

Any company hired to clean the town’s schools would be required to hire and train custodians that meet district and state standards and laws, including fingerprinting and background checks, said Jackie Perry, chairwoman of the school board’s negotiations subcommittee.

Perry said the school board directed Entwistle to look for savings and find ways to put more resources in classrooms when he was hired two years ago. She was surprised that so much could be saved by outsourcing custodial services.

“The custodians have every right to do what they can to get support,” Perry said. “I understand where they are coming from. They may very well be successful.”

Other districts have outsourced custodial services, including Gorham and Falmouth, where Benchmark cleans the high school, according to the Falmouth superintendent’s office.

Benchmark cleans all five public schools in Gorham, saving the district about $200,000 per year, said Norman Justice, who has been facilities director there for four years and held the same position in Scarborough for 22 years. Gorham outsourced its custodial services more than a decade ago. “From a cost perspective, it’s definitely been good for Gorham schools,” Justice said, adding that work quality has been high and custodian turnover has been low.

Custodians and their supporters will formally kick off their campaign with a meeting at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Scarborough Middle School.

Kelley Bouchard can be reached at 791-6328 or at:

kbouchard@pressherald.com

@KelleyBouchard

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