Collier not only school district facing difficult choices, including outsourcing

Frank Amador, head custodian at Golden Gate High School, center, plays catch with his daughter Veronica, 9, right, in his front yard at his home in Golden Gate on June 19, 2008. Amador, 40, said he will take a job with GCA Services Group if custodial work is outsourced by the school board in a vote to be held in Sept. Greg Kahn/Staff

Photo by GREG KAHN // Buy this photo

Frank Amador, head custodian at Golden Gate High School, center, plays catch with his daughter Veronica, 9, right, in his front yard at his home in Golden Gate on June 19, 2008. Amador, 40, said he will take a job with GCA Services Group if custodial work is outsourced by the school board in a vote to be held in Sept. Greg Kahn/Staff

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The District School Board of Collier County discusses the privatization of custodial services.

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Make no mistake about it.

It is hard to be in the education business these days.

Thursday, the Collier County School Board voted 3-1 to postpone a decision on what might be inevitable — the outsourcing of 250 custodial jobs. The district is considering privatizing custodial services to save more than $3 million in the district’s operations budget.

While community members rail about letting the employees go, the Collier County School District sees itself forced into a terrible corner. After years of tremendous growth in the district, it’s seemingly come to a screeching halt.

The district was expecting a $10.3 million revenue decrease for the 2008-09 school year as a result of cuts at the state level. The revenue loss is on top of the $10 million the district was required to give back over the course of this fiscal year as a result of the state general fund revenue shortfall.

Chief Operations Officer Michele LaBute told the Collier County School Board last week that the state’s budget for 2008-09 cannot be relied on and that state funds as early as April aren’t meeting projections.

She told the Collier County School Board that the state is talking about holding 1 percent of all state agencies’ budgets back each quarter of the fiscal year. If that happens, she said, the district could lose an additional $7 million.

In addition to state cuts, the district reported Tuesday that its fuel costs are projected to increase by $448,227 over what the district initially projected and electricity costs are expected to increase by 23 percent, or $2.3 million.

District officials have said the 2009-10 school year could be worse if Collier County voters don’t pass a referendum in November that would give the district access to millions for its operations.

The referendum will allow the district to lower its capital property tax by 0.25 mills, or 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value in exchange for an increase in the property tax for the general fund by the same amount.

The district’s money woes aren’t unique. Neither is their decision to outsource some of its jobs.

The Osceola County School Board, in Central Florida, is considering outsourcing everything from custodial services and maintenance workers to payroll and food service employees.

“We’re offering that to outsiders at 80 percent of what they pay now. So, if we can get a 20 percent savings, that’s 20 percent that can go back into the classroom,” Osceola School Board member Jay Wheeler said.

Wheeler said the decision to explore outsourcing, which could result in more than $5 million back to the Osceola School District, was difficult, but necessary.

He said the decision came as the state continues to make cutbacks to public agencies after a shortfall in its operating funds.

“It was a business decision. Our business is educating children,” he said. “We have to think first about maintaining our programs. We have to operate leaner and look at our core business.”

Wheeler said Osceola staff is talking with different vendors and will bring recommendations about outsourcing back to the board.

As pointed out by Collier County School District officials this past week, Duval County has outsourced its custodial services to GCA Services Group.

Duval County (Jacksonville) has had outsourced custodial services for a while, though, hiring Aramark Corp. before GCA. The partnership between the Duval district and Aramark ended last year.

Outsourcing isn’t the only way districts are cutting their budgets.

Thursday night, the Miami-Dade School Board voted to eliminate hundreds of positions, including 317 central office employees, 75 physical education teachers and 28 assistant principals. The cuts bring the total reduction to the district’s workforce to more than 2,200 and is expected to save more than $44 million.

Manatee County (Bradenton) didn’t renew the contracts of 200 teachers, aides, secretaries and custodians, and cut all employees’ salaries by 5 to 7.5 percent.

Lee County has cut more than 150 jobs and eliminated overtime.

Orange County (Orlando) cut guidance counselors, library staff and related arts teachers — those who teach art, music and physical education.

The cuts come as the Florida School Boards Association Board of Directors voted unanimously earlier this month to sue the state for inadequately funding public education.

At nearly the same time the association board voted to sue, Gov. Charlie Crist signed the 2008-09 state budget, providing $332.3 million less for education than a year ago.

Collier School Board member Steve Donovan said the state needs to do something about the education situation.

“This is all happening because of the state and the lack of funding for public education,” he said. “The mentality in Collier County is that we are a wealthy place, we should have enough money for the schools. But that is not how it works. We have no choice.”

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