Plainwell board chooses not to privatize custodians
By Daniel Pepper
Plainwell school board members turned down a recommendation to privatize custodial services.
Board members voted 3-4 on the motion, which was recommended by the district’s administration and touted to save $103,996 in the first year by cutting the district’s remaining 11 custodian jobs and hiring a private company to clean the district’s buildings.
Custodian and union president Jody Haddix said the vote was a relief.
“It was a huge weight off our shoulders after four months,” Haddix said. “It’s a huge step in the right direction for the board, the district and the custodians.
“It’s a bit of confidence that we can pull together here as a district.”
The recommended contract, with Grand Rapids Cleaning Services, would have cost the district $479,723 per year and lasted from September 2011 to June 2014.
Board members Christine VanDenBerg, Kevin Blue, Jennifer Loftus and Kim Shafer voted “no.” John Nyberg, Amy Blades and Al Moeller voted “yes.”
Before the vote, Nyberg said it would be tough.
“This is a tough decision for everybody here,” Nyberg said. “I’ve talked to some around the community and heard from many more.
“It’s been a difficult decision for all.”
VanDenBerg spoke against the idea.
“I don’t agree with it,” VanDenBerg said. “We’re here with a fund balance and we have a balanced budget now and we let our lowest-paid people go?
“I don’t agree with it.”
Administrators previously said the idea was needed because of projections that the district will need to cut almost a million dollars from next year’s budget.
Moeller said he thought the board had to choose the contract.
“I think this is a situation where a company can provide a comparable service for a lower price,” Moeller said. “I think we have a responsibility to do that.”
Over the three-year contract, administrators estimated that the privatized contract would save $548,258.
The district estimates it would spend $624,044 on custodians’ wages, benefits and retirement in the upcoming year without privatizing the positions.
Shafer said she didn’t believe it was time to start cutting yet.
“To me, there are too many ‘what ifs’ to pick this option tonight,” Shafer said. “I think we owe it to them to try and see what things will really look like.”
Contact Dan Pepper at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (269) 673-5534 or (269) 685-9571.