The Union R-XI Board of Education voted unanimously Monday night to reject the hiring of outside custodial services to work the evening shift.
The vote was 4-0 in favor, with board members Kate Jones and Teresa Connelly absent.
Last month, the board gave Superintendent Steve Bryant the go-ahead to check into the feasibility of contracting a commercial cleaning service to work the evening hours.
Several staff members spoke out at the meeting, sharing concerns that independent workers might not be trustworthy and might not work as thoroughly as the district’s own employees.
They also told the board of all the “extras” the current custodial staff provides, including helping with flat tires and going the extra mile to make sure classrooms are not only clean, but safe for students.
Librarian Jean Taylor said the Union custodial staff has many longtime workers with whom the staff has developed a relationship of trust and dependability.
“Last week I came into work and found a beautiful gold ring with a note from a custodian on my desk,” she said. “It said, ‘Found in the hallway.’ He could easily have pocketed it, and no one would have ever known, but he put it on my desk with a note knowing that I would do my best to find out who owned it.”
She added that custodians often just see a problem and fix it without anyone asking them.
Taylor said Union custodians live and work in the community and care about the school.
“I can’t see another company’s employees, who don’t have a vested interest in our community doing (extra things for the school),” she said.
Beaufort teacher Sue Wilkinson said many teachers were upset when they heard about the possibilities of hiring outsiders to work in the schools.
“These guys live in the community and they take care of us,” Wilkinson said. “I know sometimes we look at numbers and money and all, but I believe in America we have to look at what’s right. And what’s right is these guys are a part of us.”
Bryant said he values the custodial staff and the job that they do, but as a steward of the taxpayers dollars he felt he had an obligation to look into possible savings.
“We weren’t looking for this, but it was brought to us in an estimated proposal,” he said. “And although we do value our employees, we’re taking care of the taxpayers dollars and with that responsibility (the board) thought we should go ahead and pursue this.”
Board President Gary Young said the superintendent is hired to be fiscally responsible for the district and it was his obligation to look into anything that would save the district money.
“(Bryant) was doing his job and following the direction of the board,” he said.
Bryant looked at several independent contractors, and told the board Monday that hiring one of them could save the district a sizable amount of money.
The subtotal of current custodial salaries is around $583,000, with some of them being on six-hour shifts. The district was considering moving everyone to eight-hour shifts because of the new health care laws next year, which would raise that total to more than $600,000.
Bryant said the independent contractors hire people to do the work at a much lower rate than Union custodians are currently paid — most likely at the minimum wage level.
“We know it’s just not about salaries, but we need to look at this and see what it means to us in dollars and cents,” Bryant said. “You can do the math. As far as dollars and cents, you’re looking at anywhere from $140,000 to $150,000, up to as much as possibly $350,000 in potential savings.”
Young said in considering cost versus quality, there was no way to replace the personality and security that the current staff brings to the district when an outside company comes in.
Board member Ron Sohn said the district had used an independent service in the past and had gone back to using its own staff.
“You get what you pay for,” he said. “Our custodial staff does an excellent job. Saving money isn’t all there is and it might cost us more in the long run.”