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South Bend school board accepts bid to outsource custodial work

Screenshot captured via YouTube

The South Bend Community Schools Board voted to outsource the district’s custodial work Monday. 

The board approved an RFP to solicit bids back in August. School officials said the demands of aging buildings, new referendum projects and the COVID-19 pandemic have overwhelmed the district’s buildings and grounds staff.


“We have problems that require expert solutions, but we lack the bandwidth and capacity to correct the problems,” school corporation Chief Financial Officer Kareemah Fowler said at the board’s Aug. 16 meeting.


Fowler said the district’s custodial staff also experiences high turnover and has a high number of employees at retirement age. She said Monday that by outsourcing custodial work, teachers and administrators can refocus on academic needs. 


“It puts us in a better position to have experts who do the work come in and help us so that we can put our attention back in the classroom where it belongs – on our students,” she said.


However, opponents – including board member Oletha Jones – said one of the promises of the district’s referendum was that it wouldn’t outsource those services. 


“I do remember hearing the superintendent, during the referendum campaign, declaring that if we did not receive the referendum – if it did not pass– he was going to outsource everything he could get his hands on,” Jones said Monday. “So regardless of all the probably good reasons why you’re saying this is necessary, I believe it was something that was going to happen anyway.”


The school corporation also outsourced its food service to Chartwells in 2019.


Fowler said a committee of school board members, school principals, legal representatives, custodial workers and administrators had met several times since August to review proposals and interview vendors.


The committee recommended the board accept a bid from Tennessee-based SSC Services, maintaining that it was the most efficient way to keep up district facilities.


“We’re going to gain capacity, we’re going to gain safety training. They’re going to be able to have apprenticeships,” Director of Capital Projects Mike Szymanski said. “They’re going to try to hire more women, be more diverse – they have a staff to do all that.” 


But Mozell Bowens, president of the union that represents custodial workers, said those problems could be solved by the district investing in its current maintenance staff. 


“We want to say that dilapidated buildings and buildings that are getting older are on the backs of our custodians,” Bowens said at the Aug. 16 meeting. “That’s not on the backs of our custodians, that’s on the back of our people that have been cutting our budget.”


Bowens urged board members to table the decision Monday, but they ultimately voted 5 to 2 to accept the bid, with board members Jeanette McCullough and Oletha Jones voting “nay.” 


The board will consider the official contract in December.


Contact Gemma atgdicarlo@wvpe.orgor follow her on Twitter at@gemma_dicarlo.


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Gemma DiCarlo comes to Indiana by way of Athens, Georgia. She graduated from the University of Georgia in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and certificates in New Media and Sustainability. She has radio experience from her time as associate producer of Athens News Matters, the flagship public affairs program at WUGA-FM.