CPS considers outsourcing custodial jobs at Battle High School


Nomin-Erdene Jagdagdorj

Adam Rowe sweeps around desks in a Studies wing classroom. Photo by Asa Lory
For one hour Wednesday, Oct. 17, all were off deck—all custodial hands, that is.
From 2-3 p.m, all Columbia Public Schools custodians gathered for a meeting, directed by superintendent of Columbia Public Schools Dr. Chris Belcher, at which they discussed the employment at Battle High School. Upon the school’s opening in fall 2013, CPS is considering outsourcing those jobs from an outside company rather than managing the custodians themselves.
At the meeting, GCA Education Services, a company based in Knoxville, Tenn., offered to provide their janitorial services for BHS for a fraction of the cost of hiring custodians. If CPS hires custodians instead of contracting with a company, it will cost them $816,611, compared to the fractional cost of $255,312 with GCA.
However, RBHS principal Mark Maus said CPS has not committed to GCA yet; instead, CPS will “send out a document” for groups to make bids on how much they could reduce costs for CPS.
Adam Rowe, who has been working at RBHS for the past seven years, appreciated that the meeting informed the custodial staff of the impending changes. The custodians have sensed possible tribulations for the last few months, he said, but they could only get information on the issue from papers. Wednesday, CPS finally informed them straight on. Rowe said he felt the school district was thinking less about the custodial staff’s well being and more about cutting back on costs.
“The economy is bad, so everybody is cutting back. …  Money talks. It’s about money right now,” Rowe said. “It isn’t about any custodians, it’s about money. When you sit down and talk to them in the meeting, I picked up that it’s just about how they can save money. It isn’t about how they’re going to keep the custodian’s jobs. It’s about how they can cut their budget in half.”
Maus said the savings from outsourcing could be substantial. Contracting with a large group gives the schools much more buying power, he said; for example, the national group First Student manages all of bussing at CPS. This allows for savings in equipment and supplies, Maus said. Still, even in the attempt to cut back on costs, Maus said CPS does not want to eliminate any jobs.
“The idea is not to take anyone’s job,” Maus said. CPS wants to “continue to support our custodians. So there’s been concern, but I know here at Rock Bridge, there is no plan, as far as I know, of having anything but Columbia Public Schools take care of our school.”
However, with the potential savings from outsourcing custodial jobs at BHS, Rowe is concerned CPS will eventually contract out jobs at all schools to mimic the success at BHS. Rowe does not plan to leave RBHS to work at BHS, but he said he is still worried about whether his employment at RBHS will last.
The concern “is whether we have a job in the future. They say we will have a job in the future. They’re not cutting Rock Bridge, Hickman, Oakland; they’re not cutting those schools out, but you never know,” Rowe said. “We don’t know down the road what might happen.”
Rowe is also worried about the transition to contracting out custodial jobs, he said, which would require the custodians to learn new procedures on how to, for example, report issues. With major changes affecting the livelihoods of their employees, CPS should give the custodial department more significant voice in these issues, Rowe said, because the decisions will have the greatest impacts on their lives.
“It affects us in the long run, ’cause anything can happen,” Rowe said. “If [contracting] works for Battle, who says it might not go for Rock Bridge and Hickman and other schools?”
By Afsah Khan and Nomin-Erdene Jagdagdorj
Read a past story about the custodial staff at RBHS here.
battle-logoThis is part of the Preparing for Battle ongoing special report. For more information on the changes occurring, check Bearing News biweekly for a transition update.