South Bend Schools Finalize Agreement to Outsource Facility Services

SOUTH BEND – South Bend Community School Corp. will begin the process of outsourcing employees in its facilities management department in January.

The school board voted 5-2 Monday night to contract child care, grounds management and plant operation and maintenance services in Knoxville, Tennessee. CSS services for education at a rate of $ 18.3 million per year.

District officials say the move will lead to long-term savings, better employee benefits and service stability amid a national labor shortage, which should allow the school corporation to invest. more money in the classroom.

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“Having this partnership can give us access to more proactive systems,” Deputy Superintendent of Finance Kareemah Fowler said Monday. “We have approximately $ 117 million worth of deferred maintenance that needs support to be completed. This partnership adds that extra layer of support.

Opponents, however, say they fear the contract may represent a new trend in outsourcing in the neighborhood, which contracted in 2019 with food service provider Chartwells, a partner of SSC, under the umbrella of the support service company, Compass group.

“I think it’s rushed,” said Jeanette McCullough, Member of the Board, before voting against the contract Monday night. “How much of these savings … will affect children, students, children? “

What happens next for the employees?

More than 150 employees of the district, of which about half work in South Bend schools for over 10 years, will be included in outsourcing, Fowler said Monday night.

Administrators explored keeping some employees in a hybrid outsourcing model, but Fowler said she recommended transitioning all staff to SSC because paying for both a partial contract and the job. Continuing to some employees would overshoot the district’s budget for facilities services.

The transition will begin on January 1, with employees receiving their last paycheck from South Bend schools on January 14.

All employees will be guaranteed a position with the company, and SSC division vice president Val Emery said his team plans to hire 75 other positions locally in addition to those already working for the employees. South Bend schools.

Guardians will remain in their current building assignments and employees are not expected to have any loss of insurance coverage, Fowler said.

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District employees who continue with SSC will be offered a “transition incentive” of $ 1,200 to $ 5,200 based on their years of experience with the school district. Seniority will be transferred to the company.

In addition to SSC’s annual contract price of $ 18.3 million, South Bend schools will pay up to $ 795,000 in start-up costs and just over $ 2 million for the purchase of equipment, according to the agreement.

The company will take inventory of items already held by the district and will subtract a $ 2 million equipment fee from the costs of any items SSC plans to purchase from the district, Fowler said.

The contract guarantees an initial term extending until December 31, 2022, which will then be renewed automatically on an annual basis until December 31, 2026.

Why are South Bend schools outsourcing?

Administrators have expressed concerns in recent months regarding the district’s ability to recruit and retain facilities management employees.

Fowler noted that the district currently has 35 staff members who are eligible for retirement and “could retire tomorrow if they wish.”

The district has previously resorted to “one-off” or “situational” outsourcing to meet needs such as mowing, as it solved internal staffing issues.

“Situational outsourcing is very expensive because you do it at the last minute and really don’t have time to do the research,” Fowler said. “Organizations will impose additional fees on some of them. “

SSC will be responsible for recruiting and retaining staff for hard-to-fill positions and will hire 19 salaried managers to work locally across the school system. The company has its own recruiting team that tracks vacancies, advertises positions and contacts former employees to gauge their interest through a re-attraction program, SSC Director of Human Resources Shannon Thornton said.

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The company will also inventory South Bend equipment and catalog items in a database that will allow district leaders to better track preventive lifecycle maintenance of big-ticket items like treatment systems. ‘air.

“The replacement should take place without your knowledge,” Emery said. “For example, you need to plan for an HVAC repair, not when it’s broken and it’s hot in the building and we need to do an emergency repair. “

Additionally, district administrators say, the new contract offers benefits opportunities that the company cannot provide on its own.

With SSC, Fowler said, staff will receive a higher 401 (K) match, earn tuition assistance, and receive retirement benefits after just three years on the job compared to South Bend’s 10 years.

“Overall we have come up with a good resolution for the employees,” she said. “The perks they offer, salary and perks, will equal or exceed those of South Bend schools.”

Why are some concerned about the process?

While a majority of board members approved the plan, two members – McCullough and Oletha Jones – voted against.

At several meetings this fall, the two members raised concerns about the outsourcing of services not explicitly identified for drastic cuts in an efficiency study conducted for the district last year.

Although the study indicates that the guard and grounds maintenance positions in South Bend do not appear to be over-staffed compared to similar districts, he suggested develop a request for proposals to see if third-party services could help reduce costs and improve quality.

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McCullough also lobbied for a response on the amount of money saved by contracting out catering services and the resulting share for the needs of the class.

“It’s a tough question just because of COVID… We were on the verge of saving $ 1.6 million,” said Fowler, also interviewed by board chairman John Anella. “We had our last exam at the end of last year and we were just about at breakeven point. “

Mozell Bowens, president of AFSCME Local 686 representing facility staff, took issue with the district’s characterization of employment needs, saying the effectiveness study actually found the district to be overstaffed in its maintenance services and that many of the 35 workers eligible for retirement would not leave because they have not yet reached retirement age.

“At first we weren’t overstaffed, now we are understaffed,” Bowens said, adding after the contract was approved: “I hope the management skills of this company show a little more promise. than what I have already seen. “

Stuart Greene, a South Bend board member involved at the start of the district’s thinking on outsourcing, called the process “good” from the start.

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Greene said he attended union meetings where only about half of the members were in attendance.

“I am sorry that more people did not participate in this process. If I understood correctly, they were invited, ”said Greene. “It’s bigger than the individual buildings. It is more important than child care. What SSC brings is an infrastructure that allows us to be proactive, more than before. This allows us to troubleshoot, to anticipate, to be on a schedule that will create consistency, transparency and predictability.

Email South Bend Tribune education reporter Carley Lanich at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @carleylanich.

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