Education

Muscogee County School District considers changing who cleans its schools

Why does MCSD want to change its custodian system?

Muscogee County School District communications director Valerie Fuller explains the administration's proposal to change who cleans its schools.
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Muscogee County School District communications director Valerie Fuller explains the administration's proposal to change who cleans its schools.

To increase effectiveness and possibly decrease expenses, the Muscogee County School District is considering a major change in who cleans its schools.

According to the proposal MCSD chief operating officer David Goldberg presented to the Muscogee County School Board during last month’s work session, the district would:

▪ Move its employees working as custodians at the 32 elementary schools to the 12 middle schools and nine high schools.

▪ Reduce the number of outsourced contractors providing custodians from four companies to one.

▪ Use those contracted custodians at all the elementary schools.

Goldberg emphasized, “None of our (150) custodians, none of our employees, who we value greatly and do a super job, are in danger of losing their job. This is to help them.”

The problem superintendent David Lewis’ administration is trying to solve, Goldberg explained, is the logistical trouble and communication breakdowns causing poor service and responsibility arguments amid the tangle of dealing with four companies as well as its own employees. This is especially challenging at schools served by a mix of employed and contracted custodians, Goldberg said.

“We have some pockets of excellence in some of our elementary schools,” he said. “Those are going to be the tough ones to break up. But we also have some pockets that aren’t working very well.”

Lewis inherited this situation when the board hired him in July 2013 from Polk County, Fla., where he was an associate superintendent.

“I’d like to say we’re doing the best job we can with the system we have in place,” Goldberg said, “but we can do a much better job.”

Goldberg said the administration wasn’t asking the board to vote on the proposal then because it wants time to build buy-in.

“Because, as this gets personal and this gets sensitive,” he said, “we’re going to need backing from the board.”

Goldberg expects the administration to ask the board to vote on the proposal during its next meeting, March 27, starting at 6 p.m. That monthly meeting will be a week later than the usual third Monday of the month because of spring break.

Board chairwoman Pat Hugley Green of District 1 asked Goldberg, “Why don’t we just develop a standard?”

MCSD does have a standard for its custodian work, Goldberg replied, but the four contracted companies too often use different products that don’t produce the same results.

As a former elementary school principal, Goldberg said, he understands the “angst” about having only contracted custodians at those schools.

“Children don’t know they’re outsourced,” he asserted. “So if the principal is a good leader, they can make them feel part of the school just as much.”

But the bigger problem is not having direct control over the custodians at the middle schools and high schools, where the buildings are used after school and on the weekends for extracurricular activities, amounting to scheduling difficulty with the contractors, he said.

Goldberg said he wanted to implement this proposal last year but Lewis asked him to start with a few schools to test the plan.

“We’ve had very good success with it,” Goldberg said.

Dimon Magnet Academy principal Janet Sellers, Rigdon Road Elementary School principal Charleen Robinson and Carver High School principal Chris Lindsey affirmed Goldberg’s assessment in their testimonies during the work session.

“The teachers are happy, the students are happy, and when they are happy, the principal is happy,” Robinson said of having contracted custodians.

Lindsey said he was constantly complaining about the cleanliness of the classrooms and hallways. After going through two contractors, he said, the MCSD employees take pride in being Carver’s custodians. “I’ve never seen the building as clean,” he said.

Pride also will be necessary in the central administration to solve this issue, Green noted. “When we outsourced, we did not have a liaison with the contractors,” she said. “There is going to have to be someone who works for Muscogee County.”

Goldberg agreed and said, in fact, the administration is working on finalizing a new position for someone to be responsible for overseeing the contracted custodians. MCSD’s plant services department also has been restructured, he said, now aligned and reporting to the three region coordinators.

“We’re working on building relationships with the principals,” he said.

Green said having one central office employee responsible for overseeing all the contracted custodians would be “no different than what we have.”

Goldberg replied, “If we have one line of communication with one outsourcing company, … we will be able to solve that communication issue.”

The total annual cost of the four contracts, Goldberg said, is approximately $2 million. The contracted custodian companies, their headquarters and the annual amount MCSD is paying them, according to the information communications director Valerie Fuller provided the Ledger-Enquirer, are:

▪ SSC of Knoxville, Tenn., $673,168.

▪ Diversified (Beck) of Tampa, Fla., $635,104.

▪ Rite Way of Norcross, Ga., $588,482.

▪ ABM of Duluth, Ga., and Houston, Texas, $111,630.

Fuller denied the Ledger-Enquirer’s request to interview any of MCSD’s elementary school custodians, who would be transferred to the middle schools and high schools if the board approves the superintendent’s proposal.

“This is a proposal and no decisions have been made,” Fuller wrote in an emailed response. “None of our employees have been identified to be moved nor to any certain location. It would be premature and inappropriate to do so at this time.”

WHO IS CLEANING YOUR SCHOOL?

MCSD

The following schools have all of their custodian work done by Muscogee County School District employees:

Elementary schools: Allen, Blanchard, Brewer, Britt David, Clubview, Davis, Dawson, Double Churches, Downtown, Eagle Ridge, Fox, Gentian, Georgetown, Hannan, Johnson, Key, Lonnie Jackson, Mathews, Midland, Martin Luther King Jr., North Columbus, Reese Road, River Road, St. Marys Road, South Columbus, Waddell, Wesley Heights and Wynnton.

High schools: Early College.

Other: Edgewood, Marshall, St. Elmo and Woodall.

CONTRACTORS

The following schools have all of their custodian work done by outsourced contractors:

Elementary schools: Dorothy Height.

Middle schools: Arnold and Midland.

MIX

The following schools have a mix of custodian work done MCSD employees and outsourced contractors:

Middle schools: Aaron Cohn, Baker, Blackmon Road, Double Churches, East Columbus, Eddy, Fort, Richards, Rothschild and Veterans.

High schools: Columbus, Hardaway, Jordan, Kendrick, Northside, Shaw and Spencer.

PILOT

The following schools are in the pilot program this year, with the custodian work done by only outsourced contractors in the elementary schools and by only MCSD employees in the middle schools and high schools:

Elementary schools: Dimon, Forrest Road and Rigdon Road.

High schools: Carver.

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