IOW schools to contract out cleaning services

Published 11:07 am Saturday, June 27, 2009

ISLE OF WIGHT—The school board voted 3-2 on Thursday to move forward with contracting out countywide custodial services, but said jobs will not be lost.

School members Herb DeGroft and Kenneth Bunch, who will both be running for re-election in November, cast the opposing votes.

The board met at a special meeting called by Chairman David Goodrich.

“It would behoove us to vote on it at this time,” said Goodrich, explaining that the superintendent and school board attorney had completed gathering information about potential vendors.

Because the new fiscal year begins on Wednesday, a vote was needed before the next scheduled meeting, added Goodrich.

“Why this is being brought up (after the budget was passed) is what we want to know,” asked Robin Gardner of the Virginia Education Association in Richmond, who attended the meeting.

“Tomorrow morning we’re going to have a lawsuit on them,” Gardner said, citing violation of Virginia State Code Section 22.1-79.8. The code requires a public hearing for “the transfer from the public school system of the administration of all instructional services for any public school classroom or all noninstructional services in the school division pursuant to a contract with any private entity or organization.”

Although the meeting was not advertised as a public hearing, the school board allowed public comments after it convened in closed session to discuss potential vendors.

“Why would you send revenue outside the county?” asked Stephanie Bailey, president of the Isle of Wight Education Association.

Some localities had started using other vendors but went back because of increasing costs of privatization after the first year, Bailey stressed.

Several school employees were also at the meeting to voice their concerns.

“Without my job, I won’t be able to continue on with caring for my children and helping them go to college,” said Sandra Perry, a custodian at Smithfield High School.

“We have 45 families that may be adversely affected. None of these people have been given the proper chance to voice their concerns,” said Carrollton resident Pamela Cross. “In the future, please consider not having special called meetings. It doesn’t give the constituents proper time … without being rushed to do so,” added Cross.

Some school board members balked at the comments and said that misinformation was going around.

“I don’t know where you got your information … it is about as accurate as reading a Mickey Mouse cartoon in the papers,” said T. Hayes Griffin. “Every custodian will have the right of first refusal (to work with the contractor).”

“There’s a lot of misinformation. We cannot downplay the importance of the custodians,” said George Bradby, in agreement. “We’re going to do all we can to make sure you get at least what you’ve got now and maybe more.”

Goodrich reiterated the sentiments, adding that, in hindsight, the superintendent should have met with the school principals prior to sending out requests for proposals and having contractors come into the schools.

The board voted, at the suggestion of DeGroft, to write into the motion that the current custodians will be given the opportunity for employment with the contractor.

“Verbal agreements in today’s world give me rise for concern,” said DeGroft in explanation. “But I will not support it if we do not put it in writing what will be done.”

DeGroft’s suggestion to guarantee custodians their current pay was not met favorably by the rest of the school board, who said they thought the amendment might hinder salaries from being higher.