LEE COUNTY, Fla.- As the Lee County School District looks to cut $25 million from next year's budget, one item on the table is generating more controversy than others-outsourcing custodial jobs.
That move would save the district about $4 million in retirement and benefits costs.
But it could impact hundreds of employees, and that has some taking a step back.
Board member Don Armstrong spoke out at today's budget workshop, and said he is not in favor of the move.
But fellow board member Tom Scott says he thinks they need to consider every option during such tough economic times.
He says, "my point of view is we've been into reserves for 2 years in a row and I'm not interested in doing that for next year's budget so I think we need to look at everything including that, to see if it makes sense economically and operationally for us." He knows it is a tough sell, and still may not be the best move for the district.
"I know there are people involved and the attempt would be if we do that, to make sure those people currently working for us would have the first opportunity to work for the contractor," he says. "We're talking about people. A lot of jobs, and we haven't clarified what we want to do, what those people might be entitled to do, that they might have a job with another company, we're in the exploratory stage and we're gonna do what's right for the district," he says.
Even Superintendent Dr. Joseph Burke isn't sold on the idea yet. "You give up control of the workforce, our schools are in really good shape now, they're kept really clean, we have a great custodial workforce out there doing the work now. So while from a budgetary standpoint it makes sense for us to keep that on the table for now, as a practical matter there is a downside that has to be considered," he says.
Jamie Michael, president of the Support Personnel Association of Lee County, says she doesn't like the idea. "If they outsource the custodial staff, they're taking away a safety issue. Those people know the campus, they know the students, they know where to take students if something happens," she says. "We've gotten a survey from Collier County schools that say their schools aren't as clean as prior to the outsourcing. The teachers aren't happy," she says. Collier County outsourced its custodial staff in 2008 for $3 million in savings. At the time, it was a very controversial decision.