Teamsters’ probe reveals possible issues with outsourcing Collier schools’ custodians
The bids haven’t come in yet and the contract hasn’t been awarded, but the group that represents 250 Collier County custodians wants the school district to rethink its decision to inquire about outsourcing jobs.
They say it isn’t safe.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which has a local chapter that represents Collier’s custodians, hired Coral Gables-based Bolton Investigations Inc. about two weeks ago to investigate safety and security issues as they relate to previous operations and employment practices of GCA Services Group.
GCA Services Group is the company that offered to provide an estimate of how outsourcing custodial services could save the Collier County school district money. The company came back with an estimate that showed the district could save more than $3 million by outsourcing its custodial services. Once Collier Superintendent Dennis Thompson saw that, he asked district officials to send out a request for proposals.
Earlier this month, the district had a pre-bid meeting for those companies interested in bidding on the district’s contract for custodial services. Thirty companies from Florida and elsewhere came to the meeting, including GCA Services.
David White, communications director for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said the investigation is ongoing, though he did not say if the union was looking at all of the companies.
Randy Pines, chief negotiator for Teamsters Local 79, said GCA was chosen by the Teamsters because they were “given a head start.”
“We want people to stand up and take notice,” he said. “We want to lift the veil of secrecy that is being made in regards to this particular decision.”
The report by Bolton Investigations, which was performed by retired Coral Gables police Lt. Pablo Garcia, only focuses on GCA. The report’s preliminary findings focus on three incidents between Oct. 31, 2006 and April 2008:
A GCA Services employee working at Huntingdon High School in Huntingdon, Tenn., was accused of raping a 16-year-old student in a closet during school hours. The employee, after he was arrested, was found to have a criminal record with charges of aggravated battery, assault and theft of property.
A GCA Services employee and registered sex offender, who was working as a custodian at Chisholm Trail Middle School in Rhome, Texas, was found dead in a school locker room. The employee, who had been convicted of indecent exposure in 2006, was found with his pants down and a bag over his head. Investigators determined the cause of death was accidental asphyxiation. The employee passed a background check because he used an alias.
A custodian hired by the company working at La Coste Elementary School in La Coste, Texas, consented to a search of his home when questioned about a new laptop computer, a Palm Pilot and a stereo reported stolen from the elementary school where he worked. Police recovered those items, along with other campus property, including office supplies, stools, glitter, crayons, paper towels and boxes of tissue. A background check revealed the employee had a 1996 burglary arrest.
“The above stated cases relating to GCA Services’ employment practices indicate the need for concern and careful examination of any decision to contract out services that involve intimate contact with children in schools,” according to the report. “Further research is needed with regard to turnover rates, labor supply and competitive wages, training programs and personnel policies.”
Sarah Poteet, the mother of a Palmetto Ridge High School student, said money shouldn’t matter when it comes to protecting her child.
“Our custodians know our kids, the parents and the teachers. They are part of the educational system,” she said. “They say it takes a village. Our village is bring torn apart.”
Thompson said GCA shouldn’t be faulted for the employees, it should be the school districts, for hiring those employees.
“When a company provides outsourcing services, they send you a list of employees and the district conducts the drug tests and the fingerprinting,” he said. “It is the district who determines who is eligible to work in the schools, not the outsourcing company.”
Thompson said Collier County has cases of employee misconduct and cited his firing of former Barron Collier High School Principal Ron Miller as an example.
Florida law requires that contractual personnel who are permitted access on school grounds must meet stringent screening requirements. Those convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude “shall not be employed, engaged to provide services or serve in any position requiring direct contact with students.”
Employees hired by the district must submit to a background and security check required by Florida law and the district’s request for proposals. The district can deny someone employment if they have been convicted of an offense listed in section 435.04 of the Florida Statutes. Those offenses include murder, battery and sexual misconduct.
However, state law allows each district to make a case-by-case determination if the act or acts revealed in a background check disqualifies an individual from employment with the district.
Thompson has said that, should the district decide to outsource its custodial services, many of the district’s current employees could be rehired by the new company.
“I know it is an emotional issue and there is a potential for some employees to lose their jobs,” he said. “But this is a case where the union is publicly making their case to discredit the process.”
Thompson challenged the union’s assertion that the district refused to meet with union officials, saying no one from the Teamsters has contacted him to meet and discuss the outsourcing issue.
Bids are expected to be submitted this afternoon, Thompson said. They will be opened Tuesday and evaluated by a committee that consists of Chief Operations Officer Michele LaBute, principals from elementary, middle and high schools and the district’s director of purchasing. Thompson said if the committee believes there is a cost savings, it will make a recommendation to him.
“We have done everything in a fair, clear cut and transparent manner,” Thompson said. “I am obligated to ensure that we are spending taxpayer dollars efficiently and effectively.”
Thompson said the district has a duty to keep children safe and it will be up to the district to decide who it hires, should it decide to outsource.
Pines said he believes the district needs to take more time, enlist the help of a blue ribbon commission and assess the impact outsourcing would have in the community. He said the union would like to sit down with the district to discuss ways the district could save money while allowing the 250 custodians to keep their jobs and benefits. Pines would not elaborate on his plan.
“We don’t believe that $3 million figure,” he said. “We believe an independent, blue ribbon commission should look at the numbers and determine the real cost savings.”
Thompson said the $3 million figure was an estimate and it will be up to the district’s panel to look at the bids and determine if there is a significant cost savings to the district.
Officials from GCA Services Group were unavailable for comment Thursday.