Emotions were high at Wednesday’s Lake Orion Board of Education meeting as the board unanimously voted in favor of to save the district money.
Custodians, along with their supporters in the audience, weren’t the only ones visibly shaken by the decision. Trustee Connie Meech, who voted in favor of outsourcing had trouble containing her emotions as well, fighting back tears as she explained she had been overly optimistic of the district's budget forecast and wished they didn't need to go down the road of privatizing the custodians.
Like Meech, many board member said, “It wasn’t an easy decision.” A couple of the board members noted that they had been outsourced in previous positions and understood what the custodians were about to go through. Trustee Steven Drakos said his father had been a custodian, so he took the matter seriously.
"As a trustee, it's not my job to take things personal and to heart; it's to look at all the facts," Drakos said.
"I was obligated to look at all the facts, I did look at all the facts ... with that I know with good conscious I am doing the best that I can."
After custodians Mary Cottrill and Kathy Sandstrom gave a speech during the public comment portion of the meeting, and after a short presentation by administration, board members decided that outsourcing would be the fiscally responsible way to cast their vote. The bid was awarded to The DM Burr Group of Flint. Superintendent Marion Ginopolis said the decision will save between $3.5 million and $4 million over a three-year period.
Trustee Melissa Miller said that the state cuts to education have forced them to make these difficult decisions.
Lake Orion resident Bill Holt spoke at the meeting prior to the vote saying, “In my mind we cannot afford to not take advantage of these savings.”
Sandstrom and Cottrill explained their distaste for the Request for Proposals process and how though they submitted a bid, dropping their rates by 23 percent and including additional cuts in benefits, they were not allotted the same "level playing field" as other bidders. The custodians said they were not properly interviewed along with the other privatized vendors and were not allowed use of a projector to make a presentation. For the past several months Sandstrom and Cottrill, along with other district staff members, stood at the podium sharing their knowledge on the impact of custodial services.
“You get what you pay for and you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” Cottrill said during her speech. "Does our loyalty and track record not prove we are the best fit?"
“We did everything we could,” said Sandstrom, who has worked for the district for 16 years, after the board made their decision.
In response to the decision to outsource the custodians, more than 40 people will be laid off.
“I’m pretty disturbed,” said Bill Mason, a custodian for the district. Mason noted that there will be a difference in quality of services and that he didn’t think the board was comparing “apples to apples.”
Custodians can seek jobs with new vendor
Assistant Superintendent of Business and Finance John Fitzgerald and Ginopolis did try to soften the blow by outlining a few options to help out the staff members that were laid off. Fitzgerald explained that in the contract with The DM Burr Group there will be language that directs the vendor to pay an enhanced wage for any current custodial staff that seeks employment with them to stay in the district.
Likewise, Fitzgerald noted they would like to negotiate with the vendor for the district to cover a portion of the health care costs. Ginopolis also suggested that the sick days that are outline in the current custodial contracts to be paid out to employees that were laid off.
"We understand that there is a great value to the history and skill set to our existing staff," Fitzgerald said.
Some questions were raised at the meeting about background checks, which Fitzgerald assured would be just as thorough as the district’s, and quality of service. Fitzgerald said that the contract will outline specifics which will allow the district to terminate the agreement if they are not satisfied that The DM Burr Group is performing adequately.
"They know if we're not satisfied, they will be replaced," Fitzgerald said.