The Royse City Herald-Banner published a report regarding the Royse City Independent School District’s plans to outsource its custodial services earlier this week. This online version of the report includes comments from a current member of the custodial staff at the school district who raised concerns about the announced plans for shared services.
A custodial worker at the Royse City Independent School District says a plan to outsource cleaning services has left employees worried about their future.
Royse City ISD Trustees on Monday gave Superintendent Kevin Worthy permission to begin negotiations with SSC Services for Education, a company that offers various maintenance services to school districts, private schools and institutions of higher education. Trustees also approved a 3 percent raise for all its employees.
Byron Bryant, the district’s chief financial officer, had said that the decision was largely due to staffing shortages that the district had been struggling with for the past few years. The district currently has 43 custodial positions, eight of which are not filled.
“Right now with the economy so strong, we’re having a tough time getting custodians,” Bryant said in a previous interview. “We’ve been operating with four to eight custodians short for the entire year.”
He also told the Royse City Herald-Banner that current janitorial staff will have the option to work for the shared services company. They would also receive the 3 percent raises that were approved by trustees at the Monday school board meeting.
Custodial workers were informed of some of the details of the shared services plan a day after trustees gave the superintendent permission to negotiate a contract.
And at least one employee, who requested to remain unnamed in our reporting due to fears of retaliation, described a bleak response from the custodial workers who received news of the negotiations. The source provided the Herald-Banner with a copy of a document showing proof of payment from the district, along with contact information to confirm that the source was a district employee.
“Nobody was happy. After our meeting, there wasn’t a single custodian that said, ‘Oh this will be alright,’” the source said.
Despite being told that they would be able to continue working at the district through the shared services company, the source said custodial employees had concerns about changes to work hours and benefits.
One of the largest changes, the source said, would be a reduction of the number of paid time off from about 28 days to five days. They said district officials should have given the custodial staff a chance to raise concerns before starting the negotiation process.
“I think they should have discussed it and at least had a meeting and asked for ideas and gotten some employee feedback,” they said. “That’s what (the district) didn’t do. They didn’t ask any employees.”
The source confirmed that the district has been struggling to staff and retain custodial workers and said the main reason was due to pay. Without some of the benefits that the district currently offers, the source said they doubt those staffing problems will go away.
“It’s a living. I kind of like the job because of the solitary nature of it. It pays my bills, that’s about it. I don’t have anything in savings; I’m not rich. I get by. Anything less, I wouldn’t get by,” the source said.
Royse City ISD Spokeswoman Adi Bryant said district and campus administrators have visited every campus to gather opinions on the shared services contract and has taken measures to ensure that Spanish-speaking employees can participate in those conversations.
“These conversations with custodians are shaping the contract that Superintendent Worthy will consider later this month,” she wrote.
In response to concerns raised by its custodial staff, Bryant said the district has requested an increase in vacation days for its current employees, along with guaranteed breaks during shifts. She also said the district will pay employees for the vacation time they have not used in their June 2019 paycheck.
Bryant also confirmed that the shared services contract would ensure a 3 percent raise in June later this year to match what trustees approved for the 2019-20 school year.
“At the core of this consideration to partner with SSC is our undeniable need for a better fill rate which will lead to cleaner and safer schools for children,” Bryant said.
The Royse City Independent School District Board of Trustees on Monday voted unanimously to grant the district superintendent permission to negotiate a contract to outsource custodial services.
A contract will now be negotiated between Royse City ISD and a company called SSC Services for Education.
The company also offers ground maintenance services to school districts and institutions of higher education through shared services. Royse City ISD is looking to contract with the company for its custodial services, school officials said.
District Chief Financial Officer Byron Bryant told the Herald-Banner that the recommendation for the change came about after administrators struggled to fill custodial jobs at the district. He said entering into a contract with the shared services company would lead to an added expense of about $10,000 from its current $1.39 million to about $1.4 million.
Most of the custodial expenses that the district incurs stem from payroll and benefits, and Bryant acknowledged that a contract with SSC would save the district money as it would not need to account for workers compensation and unemployment of its custodial staff.
He, however, reiterated that the change is to ensure that classrooms are clean and that the district has a full staff that is able to do the job that is required of them.
“Right now with the economy so strong, we’re having a tough time getting custodians,” Bryant said. “We’ve been operating with four to eight custodians short for the entire year.”
Despite the district increasing pay for all employees last year and offering bonuses to retain and recruit custodial works. And staff that was hired to supervise staff, Bryant said, is spending much of their time on recruitment efforts.
“We would still have our director who would be able to supervise instead of recruiting,” Bryant said.
And though the shortage of custodians has not led to any major adverse effects on student attendance, Bryant said the district would like to be proactive in addressing its staffing issues.
Bryant also told the Herald-Banner that SSC would be able to hire the district’s custodial staff and would make sure that the district receives necessary services by recruiting more employees. The shared services company, however, would largely by responsible for employment decisions.
“They will still be wearing black and gold and their badges will still read ‘Royse City ISD,’” Bryant said.
He also said SSC would implement procedures and cleaning methods that would ultimately benefit students in classrooms. The company is also offering to replace dispensers in the district’s campuses, and will allow the district to have a night time supervisor for its custodial staff.
“(SSC) has certain procedures and guidelines for services and training that we currently don’t have,” he said.
Though trustees gave Superintendent Kevin Worthy the ability to negotiate a contract with SSC, Bryant said the details of the agreement have yet to be ironed out.
He said he expects the shared services contract, if agreed upon, to be for five years. The district will have a way to get out of the contract if they are not satisfied with the progress or the work on campuses.
Also, with the school district preparing for student population growth, Bryant said the district may need to renegotiate its contract as the need for custodial staff becomes necessary.
“There are escalation costs,” Bryant said. “Once they take over Bobby Summer Middle School and they add more staff, the cost will go up a little bit but it’ll be a year-by-year decision.”
As a contingency plan to the contract with SSC, Bryant said the district has started a pilot program at Davis Elementary School, where clear-cut cleaning procedures are being developed and put into practice.
“If we’re unable to come to an agreement with SSC that we like, we’re going to continue that program and extend it out to other campus next year,” he said.
An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated the number of PTO hours custodial workers currently receive. We regret the error.