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School Board outsources services despite objections

 

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent 

  Despite the continuing objections of its affected employees, the Henry County Board of Education voted Monday night to accept a bid for outsourcing of the school system’s custodial services.

  The tally was 4-1, with only chairman Dr. Pam Nutt voting against the recommendation of Superintendent Dr. Ethan Hildreth. The board selected SSC Services Solutions, which scored the highest of the three finalists as determined by an evaluation committee in accordance with the custodial services RFP (request for proposals). The other two firms considered were Aramark and GCA Service Group.

  Proposals for landscaping services were also on the agenda, but Hildreth recommended rejecting the bids that were received and the board agreed.

  For the second straight month a large crowd came out to voice opposition to the idea of privatizing custodial services at the county’s 50 schools. While only two citizens utilized the public participation option at the April meeting, there was little doubt where many in the audience stood as they vocalized their dissent during various portions of the board’s discussion.

  Hildreth’s initial comments reiterated points made in previous meetings, such as the $200 million decline in school board revenue over the past 10 years. He noted that this year’s budget alone suffers from $28 million in state austerity cuts in addition to a decrease in revenue from the lower tax base in a down economy.

  “A lot of things have been done” in recent years to deal with the financial woes, Hildreth said, such as furloughs for school system employees and adjustments in the school calendar among other things.

  Board member Erik Charles echoed that sentiment, citing the absence of paraprofessionals in grades 1-2 as one example of recent cuts.

  “These are no easy tasks,” said Charles. “But we have to look at what affects the whole system. We are trying to make the transition as easy as possible.”

  Charles said that the proposed agreement with SSC Services Solutions would require the company to give preference to current employees. The audible reaction of the audience suggested that most of the attendees were skeptical of that.

  Also received with skepticism was board member Mike Griffin’s assertion that safety would not be adversely affected by privatization of custodial services. He mentioned safety, accreditation, academic excellence and finances as the four main areas in which he tried to determine what effect the proposal would have.

  “When I ran for this seat [in 2012] I promised to listen to all stakeholders on every issue and do what is best for the kids,” said Griffin, who went on to point out that the budget for the coming year would likely be $10 million in the red. He credited his predecessors with putting the school system in a position to weather much of the financial storm, but he warned that the fund balance is expected to be drained in three years, with much of the added costs coming from employee healthcare.

  “This is tough medicine, and I believe we have to take it now,” said Griffin, concluding his remarks by saying that he would support the proposal.

  Nutt did not make a public comment before casting her negative vote (which garnered applause), although she did so afterward. As many in the audience made their way to the exits, one person shouted, “I can’t believe you chose landscaping over the custodians.”

  “They’re not through,” Nutt replied from the stage. “They’re not through with the cuts.”

 

 

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