Gary school district will outsource custodial, maintenance and grounds workers to reduce spending

Leonard Moody, chief financial officer for the Gary Community School Corp., at podium, explains the district's plan to outsource its custodial, maintenance and grounds workers during a Monday meeting of the Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board in Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS — The Gary Community School Corp. won state approval Monday to outsource its custodial, maintenance and grounds workers, a move that could save the cash-strapped school district up to $1.7 million a year.

The Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board unanimously endorsed the recommendation by Leonard Moody, the district's chief financial officer, to hire Illinois-based Alpha Building Maintenance Services for the work, instead of inking a new contract with the district's union employees.

Moody explained that a new union contract, to replace the deal that expired in 2007, would have cost the school district an estimated $5.5 million a year.

He said Alpha has proposed taking on the tasks for $3.8 million a year, in part by consolidating worker duties, paying lower wages, offering less generous benefits and using fewer employees.

"It obviously makes sense — given our deficit — that we've got to pursue this," Moody said.

The Gary school district last year was taken over by the state, and put under the control of a DUAB-appointed emergency manager, after its elected trustees repeatedly failed to match the district's spending to its declining revenue and racked up more than $100 million in debt.

Moody said the district likely won't fully outsource its building services immediately. He expects foremen and other experienced staffers will continue to be directly employed by the school district for at least a few more years.

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In addition, Moody is urging Alpha to re-hire as many of the district's existing custodial, maintenance and grounds employees as the company feels it needs to provide a high level of quality service.

"Everybody will have the opportunity to go after those positions," Moody said. "We're hoping to retain as many as possible."

The school district's secretaries likewise soon will have to reapply for their jobs after the union representing secretarial workers on Friday rejected Emergency Manager Peggy Hinckley's final contract offer.

Hinckley said the existing union contract expired in 2007 and state law does not require school districts to bargain with secretaries.

Therefore, Hinckley plans to individually rehire many, but not all, current secretaries, since student enrollment has dropped about 60 percent since staffing levels were set under the last contract.

State Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, a non-voting DUAB advisory member, questioned the wisdom of reducing jobs and wages in a community where unemployment already is higher and incomes lower than the rest of the state.

DUAB Chairman Micah Vincent, director of the Indiana Office of Management and Budget, responded that by shrinking non-classroom expenses now, Gary schools perhaps won't have to make more painful spending cuts in the future.

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