(Memphis) In continued efforts to cut costs of the school merger, the Shelby County Board of Education decided Thursday night to outsource custodial services for the district.
The board also decided to make changes, reducing certain benefits for all employees, in order to save about $15 million.
While suburban Shelby County Schools already outsources custodial services to a company called GCA out of Ohio, the decision mainly affects the 760 custodial employees currently with Memphis City Schools.
Looking at the six companies bidding for the contract, the ones most attractive to the board were able to do the job for $23 to $26 million.
Currently, the average salary for MCS janitorial staff is $10-12 per hour.
The cheapest bid would allow the school board to save $11.5 million.
The companies are required to first offer available jobs to existing MCS custodial staff and they said they would have more than enough positions for the number of current employees.
However, the companies' proposals involve lower pay and inferior benefits. In addition, their full work week is defined as 30 hours.
The issue created much controversial debate lasting about four hours. At one time, Commissioner Sara Lewis walked out of the meeting, after declaring that she heard an official last year claim that the outsourcing had already been decided.
"Y'all know who I'm talking about. I'm going to find my lawyer," she said, walking out.
She later returned, expressing how she felt "her soul would not allow" her to vote in favor of outsourcing.
Representatives of the custodial staff told the board they this decision would push them further into poverty.
Many of them are parents or grandparents of MCS students. Diane Anderson is one of them, and has been working for MCS for almost 13 years.
"It hurts to not have a job, and not be old enough to retire," Anderson said.
She hasn't decided whether it would be better to apply for a job with the new company or find a job elsewhere.
Staff told the board that custodians under the private company would make about $2-$3 less per hour, have inferior benefits, and count 30 hours as a full work week.
The exact company has not been chosen yet, but the bidder with the cheapest option was GCA. This company is already contracted with suburban Shelby County Schools and with Metro Nashville Public Schools.
In Nashville, GCA saved the district $6.5 million and hired back less than half the existing employees.
The changes made to all Shelby County Schools and Memphis City Schools employee benefits include renegotiating an administrative fee, dropping stop-loss insurance, lowering the district's cost-share to match the current Shelby County Schools level of 63 percent, and providing spouse coverage only to those spouses who do not otherwise have their own insurance.