Private Custodians Flunk Honesty Test

by Zac Bears  |  March 04, 2016

Private Custodians Flunk Honesty Test School custodians in Nashua, New Hampshire, are fighting outsourcing similar to that being reversed by schools in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. (Photo by Molly Maloney, AFSCME Council 93)

CHELMSFORD, Mass. – After years of problems with private contractor Aramark, including alleged incidents of theft from schools and students, the city school committee has voted to bring daytime custodial services back in house.

This is a welcome development because in-house daytime custodians will be returning to the Chelmsford schools July 1. AFSCME opposes outsourcing because workers often lose the benefits of a union contact. It also creates “a downward spiral” in which reduced worker wages and benefits may easily end up hurting the local economy and the overall stability of middle and working-class families.

Ironically, Chelmsford’s vote to reverse course comes as Nashua, New Hampshire, school board officials are considering a plan to outsource the city’s school custodians to a private contractor over the objections of many parents, teachers and community members.

After Chelmsford school officials outsourced daytime custodians to Aramark in 2011, its employees became a constant problem for the schools. For example, a custodian was arrested on an outstanding warrant just after the private contractor took over. Another contracted employee was caught stealing students’ prescription drugs from the Chelmsford High School Nurse’s Office in 2013. In recent months, a custodian was arrested for stealing student belongings, and another is being prosecuted for the theft of seven school computers.

Other issues added to the growing failures, such as losing custodians who had decades of experience maintaining the district’s buildings. “When the transition was made,” Chelmsford Town Manager Paul Cohen said, “we lost a lot of institutional knowledge.”

The high-profile arrests and numerous complaints about the overall quality of service, combined with the fact that cost savings were far less than anticipated, motivated the Chelmsford School Committee to reverse course. The committee voted unanimously to terminate its relationship with Aramark and approved a plan that brings lead day custodians back in-house for each of the town’s 11 schools.

Some members of the school committee expressed a desire for the entire operation to be staffed by public employees, but a significant budget deficit forced them to proceed – for now – with a hybrid model that includes a small team of nighttime contract cleaners.

But school committee officials are wary of working with private contractors after their experience with Aramark. They are requesting much more specific proposals for nighttime services and only offering a one-year contract.

In-house daytime custodians will be returning to the Chelmsford schools July 1. AFSCME Council 93 plans to organize the custodians in order to protect the hard-fought gains of the union to ensure good jobs in the community.

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