Pattye Benson

Community Matters

custodian union

Outsourcing of Custodial Services . . . Scapegoat for TESD Budget Woes or a Way to Save Educational Programming

I have mixed feelings on the issue of outsourcing of TESD’s custodial services. If you simply look at the bottom line, there is a cost savings of almost $1 million to the school district if the custodial services is outsourced. The school district is facing a major budget deficit and the contracting of support services not related to curriculum delivery is one option under consideration by school board members.

Several custodial members of TENIG (Tredyffrin Easttown Non-Instructional Group) union spoke at the last TEDS Finance Committee, and there are other issues to consider in making an outsourcing decision. Custodial employees number under 30% of the total membership in the TENIG union — 49 custodians. As we heard at the Finance Meeting, many of these custodian union members are long-standing district employees. Many of the custodial employees are local residents and there is growing concern whether or not they could find another job, should their work be outsourced. How will they support their families? As neighbors in the community, should this be a concern? Should school board members show compassion for the custodial employees when deciding whether to outsource the service?

I get the sense among some of the TENIG custodians that they feel they have become the target in the school district’s budget woes. We understand that privatization is seen as a way to preserve the classroom and its programming, but it does come with a human toll.

Outsourcing services that historically have been in-house functions with long-time employees is a major shift in institutional culture — despite the cost savings that could be realized. Probably the biggest and most difficult obstacle to outsourcing the custodial support service is the ability of staff and community to accept the change, or even the consideration, in spite of the current budget pressures and economic realities.

Can outsourcing provide the same level of productivity and quality of job performance as the current union employees? One could argue that the current custodians have developed a connection with the schools and the students. As a result, these employees may argue that they will do a better job than an outsourced company who does not share that same level of ‘ownership’ in the school system.

The RFP for outsourcing of services was issued by the school board with a deadline for bids in early April. Once the outsourced service provider bids are returned, it will be interesting to see if TENIG’s custodial employees are prepared to match the outsourcing proposals.

Bottom line . . . the school district is faced with financial challenges in the budget. If outsourcing of the custodial services can save the district $950K, should privatization take priority over education and programming cuts? On the other hand, if TENIG is prepared to make a concession and meet the district somewhere in the middle, can we agree that is acceptable? This is only the beginning . . . TENIG is the precursor to the teacher union negotiations; setting the stage for what is to come.


Reminder: Tonight is the TESD School Board meeting. The location has been changed to Conestoga High School, 7:30 PM. Click here for the School Board agenda.

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