Letters to the Editor

Herald-Sun readers speak out: Move DPS school custodians in house

Moving the Durham Public Schools’ custodial services in-house would cost an additional $800,000 a year, a recent report said. Principals requested in mid-2000 that custodial services be outsourced so they wouldn’t have to oversee custodial workers and cleaning equipment and supplies. Some 35 custodians remain on the DPS payroll. The other 294 custodians either work for Service Solutions or its subcontractor Premiere.
Moving the Durham Public Schools’ custodial services in-house would cost an additional $800,000 a year, a recent report said. Principals requested in mid-2000 that custodial services be outsourced so they wouldn’t have to oversee custodial workers and cleaning equipment and supplies. Some 35 custodians remain on the DPS payroll. The other 294 custodians either work for Service Solutions or its subcontractor Premiere. File photo

You can read and comment on more news from Durham and Orange counties on editor Mark Schultz’s Facebok page. (Send him a Friend request at https://www.facebook.com/mark.schultz.94043). This week Mark posted a question with a link to our story “Is moving schools’ custodial services in-house worth $800K more? Custodians think so.”

Staff writer Greg Childress returned to the newsroom from his Durham school board meeting last week asking whether readers would be interested in a story about custodians. It’s a legit question. With our digital-first focus, we now ask who cares about this story, or should, before we start writing. But this story pulls together so many themes: living wage, racial equity, DPS finances. Give it a shot and tell us, is it worth $800K a year? (Comments welcome here and at letters@heraldsun.com; may be published in the paper). Thanks.”

Here is what some of you said:

DeWarren K. Langley: Durham is a community that values a living wage for all workers and racial equity; therefore our policies and practices must conform to those values if we are to insist the private sector also embody and practice those values. We cannot merely talk about these values without conceptualizing these principles in public policy decision-making. Move the custodians in-house. Simple.

Erika Juhlin: When custodial and other such services are farmed out to contractors, the contractor is profiting – that’s wasted middle-man money. They often jerk their employees around with part-time hours and as “temps,” keeping them ineligible for benefits. Custodial and food service jobs on campuses I’ve seen are mostly held by people of color, and the management positions are mostly held by white men who come in from time to time and get in the way while “inspecting” everything. So I’m all in favor of employing the custodians directly. Pay them a living wage. Pay them benefits. Stop promoting job insecurity and crappy wages while others profit.

Beth Newsome: The “dual employment program” would effectively keep custodians from earning full-time benefits from either DPS or the contractor. In my daughter’s elementary school, the custodians are a valued and important part of the school community. Often they are also DPS parents. We need to figure out how to pay them a living wage.

Steve Harrison: All financial considerations aside, moving them in-house would serve to make them “invested” in the school’s operations. Part of the team, as it were, and not an outsider who might be casually reassigned elsewhere and/or face conflicting job requirements.

Karen Jones Perron: In my years as a DPS teacher, I came to value our custodians. Many went above and beyond for teachers, showing patience with our messes and/or special requests. Many were beloved by students and staff. They deserve our respect and support.

Lorenz Hintz: When I first started teaching (in Northampton County) the N.C. Association of Educators put out a video about having a living wage for employees. This is still true 30 years later. Having in-house custodians (who are usually present during the day rather the outsourced ones who work at night) provide additional adult presence at school that kids need. Also these are jobs with benefits that add to the local community and help reduce poverty. We can afford to do it.

Frederick Xavier Ravin III: The original question is posed wrong. The question isn’t, should DPS pay an additional $800K for custodial services. The question is, does Durham as a whole believe that people deserve a wage that they can live on. How can we profess to care about our schools but not all of the employees that work within the schools. If governmental entities themselves aren’t willing to take their own medicine and provide a livable wage to its employees, why would we expect for private-sector employees to do so?

Frank Hyman: Let’s flip the question: Is it worth slashing the cost/wages of custodial services by $800,000 if our community ends up paying the contractor’s workers more in food stamps, housing, transit, health care, etc. Even the folks who only care about taxes should be on the side of bringing this service in-house.

Rob Crook: In Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools at Smith Middle School there were contractors doing the cleaning who were then dumping all the dirty wash water directly down the storm drains outside the school where it flowed into a nearby stream. If you move services, such as custodial services, in-house you have more responsibility not just to the people doing the hard work but also to the community in general to assure that the work is done safely and correctly.

Raleigh Mann: The positive influence of school custodians is overlooked. Now in my 80s, I continue to remember and appreciate the kindnesses of my elementary school custodian who always had a gentle word of advice and listened thoughtfully to what I had to say. These good people are important players in one’s education and should be compensated as such.

Sally McIntee: We can speak as people who have been taking care of one building, our house, our second house, for 33 years. There are advantages, significant ones, in knowing all about the fixtures, materials, equipment, tools, furniture, surfaces, and quirks of a building, and of its users. I know about the latch that is about to break because its partner already did. I would know about the mice getting into the closet, etc. The cleaning crew is often the first to notice a maintenance problem, like in electrical or plumbing, which is likely to be ignored by a contract crew. The cleaning crew that returns daily also has some understanding of priorities in getting something fixed. In-house maintenance is an invested partner in keeping a building clean and in good repair. By being in-house, they are invested in a good outcome for getting something fixed, because they will encounter the very same problem tomorrow. I recommend in-house.

Phil Williams: Custodians across the country are underpaid, unappreciated, and overworked. These are the unsung heroes as well. However, spending $800,000 is a disgrace, how about $1.8 million to start; then things will change for the better

Jim Lee: One of the most important mentors in my life was Mr. Harvey Alston, one of the custodians at Hillside Class of 1957. He probably helped more of us with science fair projects than some of the teachers. He always had time for us to talk about ham radio, electronics (his hobby) and life in general. Mr. Alston would not hesitate to lovingly admonish us for mischief and pat us on the back for things well done. Some of us even visited his workshop at home where he and his wife welcomed us like their own kids. He was part of the school family period.

Tom Whiteside: I remember only a handful of my elementary school teachers but have much more vivid memories of Mr. Gillespie, the custodian. He was quiet, he smiled a lot, and he taught me how to bounce an orange off the inside of my elbow and catch it in my hand.

Laura Wenzel: I agree with the comments about the relationships between custodians and students. They are among the adults our kids interact with, sometimes intimately, on a daily basis. They should be on payroll, paid on par with other school staff, and possibly offered training in child development and curriculum development. These people are an unexploited resource for engaging students in non-academic activities that are more purposeful than sports and that can even be related to academic work, particularly in STEM areas.

Fiona Morgan: Custodians are vital to our school communities.