The Durham school board made a lot of custodians happy Thursday, March 9, after members voted unanimously to spend at least an additional $1.1 million per year to make them Durham Public Schools employees once again.
The move means DPS will soon end a 13-year relationship with SSC Service Solutions, the company to which it had outsourced its custodial services. DPS paid SSC Service Solutions $7 million this year to provide custodial services and to manage the district’s cleaning program. The contract is the largest awarded by the district.
Custodians complained that SSC Service Solutions and its subcontractor Premiere paid sub-par wages and did not provide paid sick time, paid leave or paid holidays.
Life as a DPS employee should be much better, especially for custodians working full-time. The pay will be better and they will receive the same benefits as any other DPS employee, including North Carolina State Health Plan health insurance and NC Teachers’ and State Employees’ Retirement System retirement benefits.
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Part-time workers will also be better off with higher pay under the state salary schedule and paid sick leave, paid holidays and paid annual leave, all of which will be prorated.
“The victory is because I know that those part-time people coming behind me have an opportunity to work for a school system, and I’m not saying they’re [the school district] perfect, but you can live, you have benefits, you’re making a living wage and you have a retirement program and paid time off,” said Deborrah Bailey, a custodian employed by DPS contractor SSC Service Solutions. “That means a lot.”
George Conrad, the lead custodian at Hillside High School and Hillside New Tech High School, said he is grateful for the opportunity to work for DPS.
“This has been a long time coming,” Conrad said. “We deserve it. Now, we can live normal, be able to go to the doctor and just be normal hard-working people.
Denise Wiggins, a supervisor at Hillside employed by Premiere, called the 7-0 school board vote a “great victory.”
“Now, the part-timers got what we asked for and the full-timers got what we need,” Wiggins said. “We all got benefits.”
Still, many of the details must be worked out. For one, DPS must find $1.1 million above what it paid Services Solutions to move custodians in-house.
Funding options could include reallocating existing funds or asking County Commissioners, who hold the district’s purse strings, for an extra $1.1 million. The school district’s preliminary request for “new money” in next year’s budget is currently in the neighborhood of $4 million. The additional $1.1 million would require a total request of $5.1 million in new money now.
“We’ll have to put it into our overall budget request and into our possible request to commissioners,” said Aaron Beaulieu, the district’s chief operating officer.
In addition to finding the money to pay for moving custodians in-house, the administration is being pushed by the school board to move the custodians in-house before January 2019 as presently planned.
“We want to shrink in that timeline they [the administration] presented, which had it out to January,” said school board Chairman Mike Lee. “I want them to move immediately on that and I’m going to do everything I can to support the administration to do that.”
Beaulieu said the administration will be “aggressive” in its effort to move custodians in-house.
“We want to be able to do it well and do it with quality,” Beaulieu said. “Developing that timeline and coming back with something realistic will be the next steps in the follow up. We’ll do everything we can, but we are in our hiring season for teachers and we want to do this well so it’ll have a chance to be successful.”
The timing of the move was one concern expressed by officials in the district’s human resources department, which is “hyper focused” on teacher recruitment and implementing a new teacher contract system.
Bringing custodians in-house will mean the HR department will simultaneously have to hire 250 part-time and full-time custodians by May 31 while it recruits teachers for the next school year. All custodians currently employed by the district’s two contractors will have to apply for jobs with DPS.
“It’s a victory but scary in a way because there are no guarantees,” Bailey said, referring to custodians who must apply for DPS jobs.
Theo Bishop is one of 33 full-time custodians grandfathered in as a DPS employee when the services were first outsourced. They are still on the DPS payroll. He said he has been fighting for more than a decade to bring all custodians in-house.
“This will bring honor and respect back to the job like it used to be,” Bishop said. “We’ll be able to actually get everything done that we need to by having that honor and respect for the job.”
DPS originally outsourced its 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.
This new move will involve a separate DPS management team that will oversee workers and order and purchase cleaning cleaning equipment and supplies.
To move custodians in-house, the district will 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.
A recent Durham Public Schools survey found that the majority of principals who responded wanted outsourced custodians to become DPS employees.
According to the survey, 56 percent of principals wanted custodial services moved in-house while 44 percent preferred that the services remain outsourced.
Under the plan to move custodians in-house, full-time custodians would earn between $13.37 and $16 an hour, on par with what other district full-time classified workers such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers earn.
Part-time custodians would earn less, between $11.22 and $14.86 an hour but would pick up paid sick leave and paid holidays.
The contractors now pay most part-time custodians between $8 and $9 an hour and offer 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.
A more expensive option $1.5 million above current costs was on the table Thursday. The difference was higher pay for part-time workers.
Brian Proffitt, president of the Durham Association of Educators, which lobbied to have custodians moved in-house, said he was proud of the way the custodians fought for themselves.
“I think it’s a win for everybody,” Proffitt said. “I think we landed on a solution that both honors our values and honors our people.”