The Board of Education, in a narrow 4-3 vote Thursday night, accepted the proposal of Southern Management, a regionally focused school facility maintenance company, which will save the school system more than $1 million in its fiscal year 2014 budget.
All custodians currently on staff at one of the system’s schools will have the opportunity to be hired by Southern Management, provided they pass the pre-screening and background check.
The decision to privatize the service will also come with a pay cut for most custodians. James Fulford, chief financial officer for the system, said the average day custodian gets paid around $11.50 an hour in the current, school-run system. Once hired by Southern Management, a day custodian will be paid $9 an hour.
The system-run pay operates on a scale based on a custodian’s years of experience, starting at $7.50 an hour and topping out at more than $13 per hour.
Superintendent Scott Cowart said there will be options for raises in the new system, but since it’s a private company, it will not be required by the state to give raises based on experience.
Board Chairman Dr. Jon Anderson made a motion to approve the proposal, also motioning to enter into the Option 2 pay rate, which was higher than the first option the company provided (Option 1 proposed a $8.25 per hour rate for a day custodian, as opposed to Option 2’s $9).
Board member Chris Gammon seconded his motion. Anderson and Gammon were joined by board members Denise Askin Pate and Rob Cleveland in voting to accept the bid.
Sandra Morris, Donald Nixon and Bart Cater voted to deny Anderson’s motion.
Morris said she couldn’t support the proposal because she hadn’t had enough time to consider it yet. The board members were given the proposal last Friday, Morris said.
“I think we moved too fast, and I don’t think the taxpayers would support this if they knew everything about it, and I can’t support it either,” Morris said. “The train is moving too fast, and I’m not ready to vote. Can’t we have a little time — two or three more weeks, even — to think about this?”
Don Toole, a representative from Southern Management, told the board that his company “can’t get less than” 60 days for transition.
Since Cowart had previously told the board members a June 1 transition date would be best, Toole said the timing is already at a “pretty tight pace.”
It was the first action the board has taken on the FY14 budget, representing about 20 percent of the projected shortfall of between $5.5-$6 million.
“We’re transitioning from planning to action here and making our first cut,” Anderson said. “It’s a very difficult position to be in — a painful thing to discuss. But we have drained the budget for years, eliminating programs and cutting days from the students’ school year.”
The school system anticipated paying almost $3.8 million for the custodial services in FY14. Now that the plan has been approved, the system will pay almost $2.76 million, a savings of almost $1.04 million.
That cost savings represents 21 teaching positions at an average salary of $50,000 per year.
Cleveland said the decision was not easy.
“No matter what you cut — it’s going to be bad,” Cleveland said. “But our first responsibility is to the people who aren’t old enough to vote yet — the kids. And there are some cuts that affect the kids less than others. I think this decision keeps at least one big cut into the deficit away from the classroom.”
Anderson said the board has “less than $5 million” more to cut before the budget is balanced. He told the other board members that cuts will be agenda items every month until it’s balanced.
“We’re concerned because they are valued members of our team, and this was a difficult decision for the board and district leaders,” Cowart said. “We’re glad, however, that Southern Management is going to give them all an opportunity to work with them.”
The board also approved the reduction of 10 positions in the system, most of which will come from Temple High School.
The reduction in force (RIF) plan was placed on the consent agenda during Monday’s work session, and the consent agenda — a group of six items — was approved unanimously without discussion by a 6-0, with Cater abstaining.
Dr. Christi Teal, assistant superintendent of Human Resources and Student Services, said eight of the 10 positions expected to be eliminated will come from Temple High School because a multi-million dollar grant the school has received for several years — the School Improvement Grant — is ending. Six of the positions are certified, with the remaining two being classified.
The approved RIF plan will also eliminate two coordinator positions at the district level: the Title I Coordinator position and one of the IDEA Coordinator positions that is currently vacated and will remain unfilled.
Teal said Cowart will take action consistent with Georgia’s Fair Dismissal Act to implement the RIF plan arising from the elimination of these programs.
The board also approved two multi-million dollar construction projects at two of the system’s elementary schools.
The first, a project that will result in a new gymnasium for Temple Elementary School, was bid out to Carrollton-based J&R Construction & Development, who proposed a bid of $1.7 million.
David Goldberg, assistant superintendent of Administrative and Support Services, said the project came in within the budget and is expected to take 180 days to complete.
The second, a project that will result in a new new gym and expanded music room at Glanton-Hindsman Elementary School, was also bid out to J&R Construction, with a proposed bid of $2.6 million. Goldberg said this project also came in within budget and is also expected to take 180 days.
Also during the BOE meeting Thursday:
• Two residents voiced their opinions during the public input portion, asking the board to draft and approve a resolution to correct the district boundary line that caused a school board candidate to be disqualified — and then reinstated — in last summer’s election.
Jesse Strickland, a member of the local chapter of the NAACP, and Vicki Anderson, district 2 commissioner for Carroll County, spoke to the board, saying they were not seeking a new election for Dr. Bernice Brooks, but that the line be moved to correct its placement.
“She was qualified by the elections office to run for office, and I see no harm in it being corrected,” Anderson said. “Any elected official would be upset if this happened to them.”
Brooks, a 12-year member of the board who was voted out of the position by a margin of eight votes in a runoff election last August, was present for the meeting.
Anderson said a board member would have to request a vote on the resolution be put on the agenda — which would have to be voted on — to have it brought up in a future meeting.
The board struck down a similar resolution earlier in the year, with some board members saying it would be a “step backwards.”
Last July, Brooks became embroiled in a legal conflict after she was disqualified by the board of elections after it was discovered her house is in a different district that the district she is running to represent. While the majority of Brooks’ Villa Rica property can be found in District 1, her home and street address are actually in District 3 because of a technical error.
• The board recognized several of the system’s high achievers.
STAR Students and Teachers — students who scored the highest score on the SAT and the teachers who were chosen for being especially influential — were recognized the board, with each student and teacher pair receiving a certificate.
The principals of Bowdon High and Temple High — Travis Thomas and Karen Suddeth, respectively — were present to be honored by the board for their high school’s recent achievement in being named an Advanced Placement Challenge School.
The award went to the Georgia high schools who have fewer than 900 students, yet still offer AP classes — rigorous, college-level courses — in the four core areas of English, math, science and social studies.
The board also recognized Stephanie Miles, a teacher at Villa Rica High School, who was recently named the 2013 Georgia High School Science Teacher of the Year. VRHS principal Adam Herring accepted the certificate on her behalf.