Ellaine Dawson doesn’t want to drive a garbage truck. She much prefers the job she has now – driving a school bus, picking up children with special needs, which she has done for the last four years.
But she’s started applying for work at sanitation companies and other employers who are seeking drivers because she’s afraid that will accept a bid from Durham School Services at its May 10 meeting.
That's when officials will consider the Durham proposal, as well as a proposal from SODEXO to provide custodial services for the district. The board of education will also consider proposals from the unions that represent the district’s current bus drivers and custodians.
If Durham wins the transportation bid, the company may offer Dawson a job at her current rate of pay. According to Assistant Superintendent David Ruhland, the company said it prefers to hire current transportation employees. In order to retain them, it will pay the same hourly rate they earn now. But it won’t be able to offer the pension that the district workers now have.
Instead, Durham will offer a 401(k) plan. Health insurance options will change as well, Ruhland said. The district workers currently have family coverage, with 100 percent of the premiums paid by Farmington Public Schools. If Durham wins the bid, the workers would have 100-percent employer-paid HMO plans for themselves, but will have to pay some of the cost of covering their families.
Dawson said she can’t afford that, and she can’t afford to be without good insurance because she has cancer. She’s also concerned that working for Durham, she won’t be offered enough hours on her schedule to make ends meet.
“So I’ve started applying to other jobs, even though I don’t want to do that. I love my job. I love the kids, who I call ‘my kids,’” Dawson said.
She was one of dozens of employees who attended Tuesday's Board of Education meeting, held in North Farmington High's Hunt Auditorium, to get a first look at the proposals from contractors who bid on providing non-instructional services to the school district.
In February, the board authorized the administration to invite proposals from contractors to provide custodial, transportation, nutrition, technology, maintenance and grounds services. The district is bracing for a $12 million reduction in funding from the state for the next school year, and board members reported in February that it would be irresponsible to not consider cost-saving measures such as outsourcing non-instructional services.
Transportation and custodial services bids were due on March 22, and soon after, Ruhland and an administrative team interviewed vendors that met the criteria.
Ruhland said the district also, as required by law, worked with the unions to allow them to bid on equal footing. The unions’ proposals are due May 2.
The district asked vendors for three-year proposals. Durham quoted first-year costs at $3.6 million, which would save the district $1.8 million, Ruhland said.
SODEXO’s contract is estimated at $2.6 million, saving $3.2 million the first year. SODEXO also said it will hire current school employees, however it would only need to hire 58 workers (the district currently employs 72 custodians). Ruhland said the company will pay $16 per hour, which is considerably less than the $20 per hour the highest paid custodians currently earn, but more than the $12 per hour SOEXO typically pays new hires.
Ruhland added that the costs of the HMO have not been factored into that savings (approximately $530,000 in costs for the transportation workers, and $440,000 for the custodial workers), nor would one-time costs like unemployment and workers compensation, and sick leave payouts.
Ruhland said that if the unions can provide 75 percent of the savings that the contractors say they can provide, the majority of which will be reached by the reduced pension and healthcare costs, the district would be inclined to allow them to continue providing those services.
Jack Inch, who was a longtime member of the board, said he’s not in favor of outsourcing the services to private contractors, but admitted that he’s a “union guy.”
He told the board members that the “problem is not here, it’s not with you, and it’s not with the people in this auditorium. It’s with the state legislature.”
As long as the state can continue to pull part of its school funding in October, after the school year has started, the crisis in school funding will continue.
“What you really need is for all the boards in the state to go up there and say, ‘Get it straight,’” Inch said, prompting applause from the people in the audience.
But Farmington resident Hank Borgman said he’s looking to the local government to reign in spending.
“We’ve been spending too much money,” he said. And he wants it to stop, even if it means privatizing services. “I don’t see any reason why the taxpayers don’t deserve the same benefits as the (school) employees.”
He said if saving millions of dollars is possible by privatizing, the district should do so.
Kathy Koernke, a secretary at , said that privatizing “just doesn’t make sense” to her.
She noted that every time the district has had financial trouble, the administration asked its unions for concessions, and the unions agreed.
“I’m having a hard time understanding why you’re treating them this way,” she said. “You talk about fiduciary responsibility, but you must also act in good conscience. … Privatizing is an extreme measure and it just doesn’t make sense.”