The Commercial Appeal

SCS to spend $3M more cleaning schools

District will have contracts with two companies that will total $19.6M a year


Responding to complaints from principals about unclean schools, Shelby County Schools will spend an additional $3.4 million more on custodial services starting in July.

The district will not renew its custodial contract with CGA Services Group, which ends June 30, and will instead contract with two companies for the same services.

The splitting of the contract will cost SCS a total of $19.6 million per year, up from $16.2 million paid to GCA this year.

The school board approved the new contracts with Service Master Clean and Aramark last month with a narrow 5-4 vote. Voting against the contracts were board members Teresa Jones, Miska Clay-Bibbs, Stephanie Love and Shante Avant.

Several of them said they couldn't justify the increased cost and were concerned about the district having to oversee two companies instead of just one.

"When we’re talking about an additional $3.5 million in cost, I don’t see enough supporting evidence for that," Bibbs said.

But complaints about conditions of school buildings have mounted, Chief of Business Operations Cerita Butler told board members.

"We’re continuing to experience service levels that far fall below what is considered an acceptable cleaning standard," Butler said. Other issues, she added, have included staffing and cleaning supplies shortages and the buildings being left unsecured.

Bellevue Principal Kevin Malone gave his own testimony to the board on the conditions of his building over the last several years.

"I’m just going to tell you, it’s just ridiculous," Malone said, adding he frequently picks up a mop or broom himself. "I could give you a laundry list of items that we’ve seen over the last five years… just unacceptab­le."

He said he understood trying to save money, but not "on the backs of children."

"What does it say about how we really feel about our children?" he said.

Not all the board members were convinced, and over the course of three meetings asked for data about how many issues were brought up in a given amount of time and whether the issues were the fault of the district or the cleaning company. Members also questioned the need for two companies. The district broke the roughly 170 school properties into three groups, or zones, and requested bids for services for each individual zone.

No company could be awarded more than two zones.

"We discussed at length the need for performanc­e competitio­n," Butler said. "With one vendor, as large as this district is, we have not seen evidence that a single vendor is able to provide the level of service, the quality of service that is required."

The companies have both committed to hiring current workers, although only Service Master committed that 100 per-

cent of its employees would be full time and would have benefits. Aramark's bid promised a majority would be full time, and the full-time employees would receive benefits. Service Master's entry-level employees would start at $8 an hour and Aramark employees would start at $8.75 an hour. District counsel advised board members state law forbids them from considerin­g contractor­s' pay scales when voting on the contract.

Aramark committed that 25 percent of its business would go to subcontrac­tors owned by minorities.

ServiceMas­ter promised 93 of their business would be done with minorityop­erated companies.

Dennis Thomas, director of strategy, business and developmen­t for GCA, asked the board to reject the two new contracts and to stick with GCA, which had submitted a bid to remain the district's custodial contractor. He noted the cost difference and GCA's extensive experience working in school settings.

Peter Tosches, senior vice president of corporate communicat­ions for ServiceMas­ter, said the company was proud of its ability to offer business opportunit­ies for franchises owned by minorities.

"We think we presented a very competitiv­e proposal that provides the kind of quality service that the students and faculty in Shelby County Schools deserve," he said.

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