Outsourcing in schools creeps forward

Published 11:15 pm Friday, November 15, 2013

After a full slate of board members voted on the issue for the first time, Suffolk Public Schools will move ahead with determining whether outsourcing is a good money-saving idea or too hazardous for its lowest-paid employees.

Following a pattern since the School Board’s Linda Bouchard broached the topic in September, her colleagues Judith Brooks-Buck and Enoch Copeland voted against taking a closer look at the concept, while a total of five board members were for it at Thursday’s meeting.

They directed administrators to collect information on whether outsourcing maintenance and custodial services would actually save the district money, ahead of a future decision on whether to issue requests for proposals (RFPs) to companies that would charge the district to provide the services.

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After Bouchard’s first attempt to initiate a fact-finding mission was narrowly defeated, an initial decision to proceed was made in October without an actual vote.

As it appears after Thursday’s vote, Bouchard, Skeeter, Diane Foster, Phyllis Byrum and Chairman Michael Debranski believe at least that outsourcing services to provide a 5-percent raise for educators — what Bouchard hopes it would save money to achieve — at least deserves further consideration.

Bouchard maintained Thursday she believes savings would result, but said she doesn’t know how much.

“I think we owe it to ourselves, because of our economic situation, to look into it.”

After following the board’s previous direction, essentially to explore ways of exploring whether outsourcing should be further explored, Susan Redmon, the district’s purchasing manager, presented board members Thursday the plan they voted to follow — or at least to begin to follow.

The cost analysis will look at salary and benefits, custodial supplies including delivery costs, equipment capital and maintenance costs, as well as uniforms.

“There are many things to consider, and certainly both pros and cons of outsourcing,” Redmon said.

RFPs could contain strict guidelines, she said, such as maintaining benefits, the level of cleanliness expected, and job-protection measures.

“If RFPs go out, if it’s not worth it to us … we are not obligated to move any further along than that,” she said.

Countering Brooks-Buck’s argument that outsourcing results in less-clean facilities because private companies cut corners to increase profits, Bouchard said they aren’t clean enough now.

“I don’t believe our schools are nearly as clean as they should be,” Bouchard said. “I have proof; I have pictures. A couple of them are absolutely spotless, Oakland Elementary School for one. I’m not going to name the names of the ones that are not … but I’m willing to later.”

Sounding a familiar refrain, Copeland asked why outsourcing was even being discussed: “What’s wrong with the present system that we are even speaking to this?”