BURLEY — Cassia County School District’s board of trustees voted unanimously to table a decision on privatizing the district’s custodial and maintenance services.
The trustees agreed they needed more time to review a proposal for services from ABM Industries for maintenance.
Staff and community members packed the district’s board room Thursday night to listen to discussion on the maintenance issue and the closure of Almo’s elementary school. An on-duty Cassia County Sheriff’s deputy sat by the exit door.
The company’s proposal was for more than $3 million a year. The district previously said it anticipated $300,000 a year in savings by switching that could be put towards maintenance projects.
Board members said they are looking at the option in response to the recent bond failure.
The school district’s budget for fiscal year 2019-20, which was also passed during the meeting, includes a shrunken contingency fund of $39,000. The district began the year with $822,000 in reserves and had to draw it down due to decreased revenues and rising expenses.
The decision to table the issue until next month’s meeting came on the heels of more than 40 maintenance, grounds and custodial workers filing a grievance with the district claiming the district violated its own policies and Idaho law as it considered the proposal.
“I have responded to the items listed in the grievance with CCEA (Cassia County Education Association) in the manner that was requested,” Superintendent James Shank wrote in a Friday statement to the Times-News. “I also met with CCEA leadership on June 19 to discuss those issues. I have requested additional meetings if needed.”
Carpenter Tim Fisher claims he told district officials about leaking vats of chemicals on district property and improperly stored and disposed of mercury and radioactive signs and other chemicals.
The district previously said there is no connection with the claims of chemical mishandling and the board considering outsourcing its maintenance.
Trustee Heber Loughmiller said privatizing maintenance services has been under discussion by the board for years.
Trustee Jeff Rasmussen said the board has also discussed outsourcing busing and food service as cost-saving measures in the past.
Board members need to talk to the maintenance employees at other districts in the state that have outsourced maintenance to find out how the change affected them, Loughmiller said.
He also offered to include maintenance workers who want to attend in those conversations.
“We need to take the next 30 days and go through this proposal and do our due diligence and go talk to the people who went through this transition,” Loughmiller said.
The meeting was also attended by ABM spokesmen, who answered questions posed by the board and said the company would hire current employees as long as they passed background checks.
How insurance and other benefits would compare require additional scrutiny, the board decided.
ABM officials said the company posted a job opening for a Cassia County school position, which was not a replacement for a current worker but rather additional staff to get ahead of the curve in case the proposal was accepted by the board. The posting has since been removed.
The maintenance workers will not be affected just financially, district heating and air conditioning employee Jimmy Jolley said, the issue has also affected them physically and mentally during the last three weeks.
Trustee Ryan Cranney said he is deeply concerned about how the change would affect current employees and the other trustees said they agreed.