MSCS board votes against district, refusing $34 million cleanup contract with pay raise

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She may not be a nurse, LaQuanta Lee told the Memphis-Shelby County School Board, but she takes care of the children at Cromwell Elementary School by keeping their classrooms and bathrooms clean. .

“I feel like we deserve a raise,” Lee told the board on Tuesday, which rejected a new four-year cleaning contract that would have increased workers’ pay. “…We may not save lives every day, but we also take care of children when they are sick.”

In the eyes of the district, the vote, divided 4 to 2 against a new guard contract, was a vote against increasing the wages of guards in the district. Votes on cleaning contracts have historically been the most contentious vote among a council that often votes in unison with district recommendations. Generally, however, narrow votes go in the direction of the district.

As in previous years, the board expressed concern over the cleanliness of school buildings, back and forth with the administration over how the performance of one of the biggest ticket deals would be held accountable. Their problems, the dissenters said, were separate from raising wages.

But the sticking point of the district’s response this year has been raising wages, which were previously at a low of $10 an hour, on average for all workers. Services for this new contract, bid by seven companies, are “strongly encouraged” to meet a minimum wage of $15 an hour.

The $34 million contract in question was awarded in its entirety to Service Master Clean, which has provided custodial services to the district since 2017. The new contract represents a $9 million increase in total spending for cleaning services. of the district, currently managed by two providers.

Last year:SCS ousts Aramark, narrowly approves $25 million cleanup deal with ServiceMaster, SKB

District guarantees pay rise with new contract

Lee said her chief executive encouraged her to speak to the board about increasing her salary, currently at $12 an hour for a 35-hour week, and the salaries of other staff members, 85% of whom are also women of color, according to district data. .

Superintendent Joris Ray told council members that the principals of three schools explained that their only criticism of child care services was the lack of building workers.

“Minimum wage should be a living wage,” Ray said. “That’s how, in my opinion, we can ensure the regularity of the staff.”

On Tuesday, board members were skeptical that employees would receive the pay rise. The council’s materials contract stipulates a maximum annual cost increase for the district and a corresponding requirement to increase worker wages by that same percentage. But, it does not explicitly state that those wages should be $15 an hour, according to a review of documents by Commercial Appeal.

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MSCS proposed that the new contract will bring higher wages and benefits to workers.

“If we put money in for a living wage, I guarantee you it will be a living wage of $15 an hour for every household worker,” Ray said Tuesday, citing an analogy to the strike in the United States. sanitation of 1968 as he called on council members to support the new contract.

Genard Phillips, business operations manager for the district, confirmed that contract language requires a minimum wage of $15 per hour and said the contract allows the district to inspect vendor payroll records to ensure that employees receive the minimum of $15 per hour.

Service Master Clean did not respond Thursday when asked about its minimum wages by The Commercial Appeal.

The cost of home cleaning is prohibitive, according to the district

Service Master Clean won the contract by a narrow margin in the procurement process, which calculates the proposals according to various measures with the highest possible score of 4. For this contract, the top five of the seven suppliers obtained a score in a range of seven hundredths of a point. each other, district documents show.

In order of highest to lowest score, the possible providers were: Service Master Clean, SKB Facilities and Management, Inc., which is currently cleaning an area of ​​schools, then HES Facilities Management, ABM, Par Cou LLC, Fresh Start Facility Services Inc. and Aramark, which was ousted from the contract the board narrowly approved last year.

At that time, the council approved the contract by a margin of one vote, with council members again raising the issue of bringing the custodians in-house, as the city’s school system had done before the merger. city ​​and county districts.

During a presentation last month, Ray told the board that bringing the Guardians back in-house would cost $10.2 million more than the $34 million contract currently on offer. After start-up costs, the annual cost would be nearly $42 million when pandemic cleanup is required and $35.3 million per year without the additional pandemic staffing.

“I just can’t find $10.2 million and get it out of the classroom,” Ray said. “I prefer to use the classroom, for our teachers and our students.”

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Fluctuating contracts, board member Stephanie Love said last year, mean a lack of job security for workers and changing benefits. Love was among four board members who voted against the contract on Tuesday.

Charles Everett said he was concerned that a single provider had been chosen to serve the entire district.

“I don’t trust a single provider that can handle all students. That’s where my problem lies,” said Everett, who also voted no. “I don’t have a problem with the amount of the contract or the living wage payment.”

District officials said they expect Service Master Clean to subcontract work to meet cleaning needs, a practice they say is typical of other contractors in the district.

The contract could come on board for a third time in June

Along with Love and Everett, board members Joyce Dorse-Coleman and Althea Greene also voted no, leaving Michelle McKissack and Kevin Woods as the only supporters. Board members Sheleah Harris, Miska Clay Bibbs and Billy Orgel were not present at the meeting.

After the meeting, McKissack, the chairwoman of the board, said she would “do whatever it takes” to bring the employees up to $15 an hour.

“We fought hard to get $15 an hour for so many other employees in this district, and (Lee) is not directly employed by our school district, but as she says, she’s there,” McKissack said before the vote.

After the meeting, Lee, who has been a Service Master employee for four months, said she looked forward to the board’s approval.

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“I really didn’t expect them to deny it,” she said, explaining that she had recently taken care of her late brother’s two children. With rising gas, rent and food prices, current wages aren’t enough, she says, and she thinks low wages contribute to turnover.

“It’s not possible that we can honestly continue to survive on $12. Like $12, that’s play money for a teenager,” Lee said. “But as a grown woman and a grown man who have bills, it’s hard for us.”

After the meeting, Greene said she voted no because the board still had to answer questions she posed, but did not elaborate. She has previously raised cleanliness issues, to which the council has responded by showing monthly scorecards.

Greene said she would review the contract at next month’s board meeting, which would be the third month the contract is presented to board members for discussion or vote.

As the council auditorium emptied, a handful of workers wearing navy blue SKB shirts began stacking chairs and emptying trash cans onto the dais.

Their contract with the council expires on June 30, alongside the current Service Master Clean contract for fewer schools. Contracts can be renewed.

Laura Testino covers education and childhood issues for the trade appeal. Contact her at [email protected] or 901-512-3763. Find her on Twitter: @LDTestino

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