By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN A proposal to get bids for outsourcing building services to save money met with opposition from business owners and custodial staff during last Monday’s Lester Prairie School Board meeting.
Superintendent Mike McNulty explained that the proposal was to seek sealed bids for custodial services to see whether or not the district could save money by outsourcing these services.
Board Chair Fred Blaser said the board was considering starting the process so it could review the facts and figures. The board will decide on any future action once bids have been received.
“We are doing our homework,” Blaser said.
Board Member Chester Hoernemann said any bids that are received should be accompanied by references.
Board Member Joe Miller asked McNulty if the specifications for bids had already been written.
McNulty replied that he would work with legal counsel and staff members to prepare the specifications.
Eric Angvall, owner of Angvall Hardware & Mercantile, addressed the board regarding the outsourcing issue.
He urged the board to consider not just the short-term, but long-term impact of any decision it makes.
He said at one time, there was a bakery in Lester Prairie, and that bakery sold products to the school lunch program.
Then, the state required school districts to follow state guidelines for purchasing.
The school then began buying its bread and rolls from St. Cloud, rather than the local bakery.
As a result, the local bakery went out of business, and the family who owned it moved out of town to find work, taking their three children with them.
At that time, the district was receiving about $4,000 per student in state funding, so the school lost far more as a result of the change than it saved on bread, according to Angvall.
“We, as a group, need to work together,” Angvall said.
He said if the district outsources its building services, it would take away any purchasing the school is currently doing at his store.
Fred Holasek, owner of Fred Holasek & Son Greenhouses, also addressed the board.
“We’ve all said it takes a community to raise a child. Every time we lose one business, it affects the community,” Holasek said.
Members of the custodial staff expressed the concern that if the school hires an outside vendor for building services, even if the company were to offer the existing employees jobs, they would lose their insurance.
They distributed a prepared statement listing what they consider the disadvantages of contracting the services.
• contracting costs more (due to “hidden” or indirect costs);
• contracting doesn’t improve services;
• contracting changes the dynamic between the community and the schools;
• contracting can lead to school districts losing control of their operations;
• public accountability is diminished.
The list also included items that the custodians allege to be the advantages of keeping custodial services in-house, including:
• tax dollars remain in the district;
• the district controls all hiring;
• work is done by district employees using district equipment;
• the district controls all costs related to custodial services; and
• essential services are provided in addition to cleaning buildings, which include items such as providing building security, repairing items ranging from students’ eyeglasses to a teacher’s egg incubator, mentoring students with disabilities, and assisting various school groups.
The list also included the names of four school districts that have stopped contracting custodial services.
Don Gilbertson, of the Minnesota School Employees Association, which represents the custodial employees, said the workers would not be required to accept job offers from an outside company, in which case the district could end up paying them unemployment.
Miller said the action being considered by the board was only to continue the process of getting bids.
The board authorized McNulty to move forward with the process to get bids.
McNulty said he would try to put the specifications for the bids together in the next couple of weeks.
The board will consider the matter again during its Monday, July 19 meeting.