Durham County

Durham school principals support moving custodial services in-house, survey says

The majority of principals who responded to a recent Durham Public Schools’ survey want outsourced custodians to become DPS employees.

According to the survey, 56 percent of principals want custodial services moved in-house while 44 percent prefer that the services remain outsourced.

And a little more than half — 51 percent — of principals said they are not satisfied with the quality of service they receive from DPS’ current custodial contractor, SSC Service Solutions.

Forty-five principals — 24 of 30 elementary school principals, all nine middle school principals, all 10 high school principals and two out of three specialty school principals — responded to the survey.

A majority of elementary school principals support moving to an in-house custodial program, while a majority of secondary school principals do not. Similarly, elementary school principals were mostly dissatisfied with SSC Service Solutions, while secondary principals were mostly satisfied.

There are 33 full-time and two part-time custodians currently employed by the district while DPS’ contracted custodial force includes 97 full-time and 197 part-time custodial positions along with seven contracted supervisory and management staff, all employed by SSC Service Solutions and its subcontractor, Premiere.

The in-house custodians who still work for DPS have been grandfathered in since the mid-2000s, remaining after DPS outsourced custodial services at the request of principals who wanted to be relieved of the responsibility of hiring and managing custodial workers and ordering and purchasing cleaning equipment and supplies.

“It’s great to have the principals backing us,” said Deborrah Bailey, a custodian employed by DPS contractor SSC Service Solutions, referring to the survey showing 56 percent of principals prefer custodians return to being DPS employees.

Bailey and other district custodians working for SSC Service Solutions and Premiere want to become DPS employees with an eye towards receiving better pay and better benefits.

Survey a factor in decision

Durham Public Schools Board of Education vice chairman Steve Unruhe said he hasn’t made up his mind, but said principals’ support for bringing custodians in-house will factor into his decision-making when it comes time to vote on the matter.

“That’s a huge piece for me,” Unruhe said. “The principals are the key in everything we do and if they had not been comfortable with bringing custodians back in-house, it would have been difficult even to imagine doing so. Since they are on board, that makes it a viable option.”

School board chairman Mike Lee also said it is important to know where principals stand before deciding whether to move custodial services in-house.

“I want to make sure that whatever decision we make is acceptable to the building leadership,” Lee said. “I want to make sure we don’t add any extra stress to principals’ already difficult job.”

The proposal on the table calls for a separate DPS management team to oversee workers and order and purchase cleaning cleaning equipment and supplies, if the school board agrees to bring custodians in-house.

The decision about whether to move custodial services in-house or continue to outsource the work could come as early as Thursday, March 8, when the school board meets for its monthly work session.

DPS has an annual $7 million cleaning contract with SSC Service Solutions, the district’s largest. DPS spends $8.4 million a year to maintain clean facilities when the current in-house staff is included.

In February, Brian Callaway, the district’s coordinator of energy and sustainability who has frequently spoken at school board meetings in favor of moving custodial services in-house, said the upcoming decision on whether or not to move custodial services in-house speaks directly to the “Durham values” of which board members so often speak.

“This discussion is the essence of sustainability and it is the essence of equity,” Callaway said. “This is the tangible application of equity and sustainability, which I believe are principles this community values and aspires to. We believe it’s part of our DNA in this community. Are you going to take the benefits and stability of full-time employment away from the poorest of your workers and give it to a corporation in the form of profit? It’s a transfer here.”

Weighing the options

The board will consider four options, two to move custodial services in-house and place them on the DPS salary schedule and one to continue to contract the work out but with better pay and benefits for the employees and one to leave it as it is.

The most expensive option, Option 3, would cost $1.5 million above current costs to move custodial services in-house, provide state employee health and retirement benefits, and paid leave and vacations to full-time custodians. Full-time custodians would earn between $13.37 and $16 an hour under Option 3, which would place them on par with what other district full-time classified workers such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers earn.

Part-time custodians under Option 3 would earn between $13.07 and $15.52 per hour, also under the district’s salary schedule. They would also receive paid sick leave and paid holidays.

The contractor now pays most part-time custodians between $8 and $9 an hour and offers no paid sick leave, paid holidays or annual leave. Full-time custodians generally make $15 an hour but receive no paid sick leave or paid holidays.

The second in-house model, Option 4, is similar to Option 3, except part-time custodians would earn less, between $11.22 and $14.86 an hour.

Under Option 2, DPS would continue to contract out custodial services. The contractor would increase pay for part-time workers to $11 an hour and add five paid sick days and five paid holidays for all custodians.

SSC Service Solution would charge $7.6 million under that option, $616,762 more than its current contract with DPS.

Meanwhile, GCA Services, which is competing for the custodial contract, would charge $7.85 million, $851,091 above what the district paid SSC Service Solutions for this year.

Option 1 is for the district to continue to outsource custodial services at the current budget level, which the DPS administration does not recommend.

To move custodians in-house, the district would also incur a one-time start-up cost of approximately $1.2 million to purchase custodial cleaning equipment for schools and office buildings, along with fleet vehicles and phones.

Last month, DPS officials estimated that it would cost $800,000 to move custodial services in-house.

Aaron Beaulieu, the district’s chief operating officer, said that amount reflected a lower hourly pay rate for custodians than is now being considered.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645