Timing is everything
In several cases over the last few years – among them, Fayette, Bullitt and Scott county districts – outcry from employees and/or parents prompted abandonment of outsourcing proposals. But when the Nelson County district was getting ready to open its new Thomas Nelson High School in 2012, “It was a good opportunity for us to test outsourcing without having to cut any of our custodial positions, since we were opening a totally new building,” Orr said. “This was a way of making a transition without having to cut anybody’s jobs.”
As the system lost custodial staff through attrition at other schools, the outsourcing has expanded. “If you’re not cutting people’s jobs, it’s a little easier to talk about outsourcing,” he added.
Currently, the Nelson County district uses an outside contractor to clean its two high schools and two middle schools, central office, alternative school and a K-8 school. The company also provides mowing services and summer floor waxing.
Janet Dema, an employee of GCA Services Group, cleans the glass in a door
at Calloway County Middle School. (Photo courtesy of Calloway County Schools)
Advice from other superintendents and public input prompted Calloway County Schools to phase in its custodial outsourcing, which began in July. The contractor supplies 11 custodians, all of whom were former district employees, Settle said.
“As our current employees retire out or seek other employment opportunities, we can fill those positions through attrition with the hopes of moving toward full implementation of the outsourced service,” he explained.
The district chose to begin with contracted staff at the middle and high schools due to public concern about the elementary level.
“I felt that some of the public concern was that maybe strangers would be brought in and the important role that custodians play in shaping young lives and the board and I both listened to that concern and took it to heart,” Settle said.
Orr suggested two points to keep in mind when floating the idea of outsourcing: “roll this in gradually” to avoid displacing staff, and addressing community fears about outside people working in their schools.
“Anybody that comes in and works in the schools has to have the same background check” as district employees, he noted.
Several administrators said their districts communicated to the public that the employees hired by contractors had to go through the same background checks as their own employees. Settle said he asked the contractor to be sure that the checks are done periodically after the hiring.
Fears were alleviated in Nelson County once the contract was in place and the public saw the current staff still had jobs, Orr added. He cautioned that “stutter steps” are to be expected as the contract employees become familiar with the buildings and gain experience in getting the schools ready for special events like graduation that require extra touches.
Warren County’s Young advises boards looking at outsourcing to do their homework on the companies bidding for the work and, once the system is in place, not to be afraid to tweak it, as Warren County did when it switched contractors and when it went back to using district staff to clean elementary schools.
One extra step Warren County took was especially helpful and fair to both the district and companies bidding most recently, said Wilson, the facilities director. He took representatives of the firms submitting proposals on a tour of all the buildings involved.
“I wanted to make sure they had a clear understanding of what they were up against and see what our expectations were in the district,” he said. “The more communication you have on the front end, the better it’s going to be once the work gets started down the road.”