Durham County

Custodians think grass would be greener as Durham Public Schools employees

Watch: Durham Public Schools custodians want to be DPS employees

Denise Wiggins works as a custodian for a Durham Public Schools’ contractor. She wants to become a DPS employee to receive better pay and benefits.
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Denise Wiggins works as a custodian for a Durham Public Schools’ contractor. She wants to become a DPS employee to receive better pay and benefits.

Denise Wiggins and George Conrad, custodians at Hillside New Tech High School, both enjoyed Veterans Day off last Friday.

But on Saturday and Sunday, it was back to work to clean and prepare the school for the return of students and staff on Monday.

“Friday was a holiday but we had to work Saturday and Sunday,” said Wiggins, a custodial supervisor who has worked at the school for a almost seven years. “It [working over the weekend] was really to make up for not working on Friday.”

Wiggins and Conrad, a seven-year custodial veteran, are both employed by Premiere, a subcontractor of Service Solutions, which holds the $7 million-a-year custodial contract with Durham Public Schools.

The school board is expected to receive a consultant’s report Thursday, Nov. 16, during a work session at the Fuller Administration Building, 511 Cleveland Street, that explores options to outsource all custodial services, move all custodians in-house or continue with the hybrid model now in use.

During an interview at Hillside on Wednesday, Wiggins and Conrad used the story about having to work the Saturday and Sunday after Veterans Day to illustrate why they want all custodians to become school district employees as they were until the 2005-06 school year.

District officials have said principals requested then that custodial services be outsourced so that they would not have the responsibility of hiring and managing workers or ordering and buying cleaning equipment and supplies.

Wiggins and Conrad cite better medical benefits, better pay and more paid time off as reasons for wanting to become DPS employees. Neither receives dental or vision benefits.

“We’re not asking for a car or to be sent on a vacation,” Conrad said. “We’re just asking for normal stuff, the stuff DPS employees already have.”

Wiggins and Conrad are both full-timers and earned just under $15 an-hour before a 75 cent raise recently kicked in.

They both have what they described as a “basic” health care plan through heir employer, but said the co-pay for a routine doctor’s visit is $60.

The two get paid on the 11th and 26th of every month and are stuck paying a $25 late fee along with their rent because they aren’t paid before late fees kick in each month.

“You really have to balance and budget,” Wiggins said. “It really sets you back a lot because most household bills are due between the first and 10th of the month.”

Currently, about 33 full-time custodians and two part-timers remain on the DPS payroll. The remaining 294 full-time and part-time custodians either work for Service Solutions or its subcontractor Premiere.

Wiggins said holidays for custodians employed by Service Solutions and Premiere are tough because the workers, even those who are full-time, do not receive holiday pay.

If an employee takes time off, then he or she forfeits pay for the time missed.

“We want to share our holidays with our loved ones just like everyone else,” Wiggins said. “If we do, we don’t get paid.”

The consultant, Core Management Services LLC, found that highest cost-savings are realized when the custodial services are “fully outsourced.”

“There is a significant difference in hourly and labor-related costs between the in-house and outsourced program options, resulting in highest cost-savings with a fully outsourced labor model,” the consultants wrote.

The consultant issued a two-phase recommendation for the district to consider as it sorts out how to handle its custodial services moving forward.

The first phase includes working with the contractor to produce a “full-disclosure program pricing workbook” to create full cost transparency, audit the cleaning outcomes at each school to create a quality baseline and invest in a web-based quality program to measure ongoing program outcomes.

It is intended to give the district an opportunity to collect good data before moving into the second phase, which involves deciding which program model to use for custodial services.

As part of the second phase, the consultants recommend:

▪  Using the “full-disclosure program pricing workbook” developed in Phase I and the findings in this assessment to negotiate a new contract with the current management company.

▪  Using the findings in this assessment to conduct a comprehensive custodial RFP process.

▪  Or, transitioning to an in-house program, adopting K-12 custodial management best-practices.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645