EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

April 7, 2009

Andover schools consider hiring private cleaning company

ANDOVER — Officials are exploring whether a private company can clean schools for less money than the 41 custodians now paid to do the job.

Privatizing custodial services is one of several potentially cost-saving changes under review by school officials, said School Business Administrator David Keniston.

The School Department budgeted just over $2 million for custodial services this year. Salaries account for $1.9 million of that total, including $66,405 in overtime costs.

There are 18 custodians assigned to Andover's six elementary schools, 14 at three middle schools and 10 at Andover High School. One of the positions is vacant.

As many as 10 custodians face layoffs next year under Superintendent Claudia Bach's proposed School Department budget, a reduction in staff that will require an "every-other-day cleaning standard," said Keniston.

Keniston would not estimate how much money could be saved by hiring a private cleaning company to do all or a portion of the custodial work at the schools.

In 2005, the Haverhill School Committee considered privatizing the School Department's entire custodial operation. The change would have saved between $500,000 and $1 million. The controversial measure failed by a 5-2 vote, after several private companies bid for the job. Many parents and teachers turned out to help the custodians block the privatization proposal.

While campaigning for the Andover town election last month, newly elected School Committee member David Birnbach said privatization could save the School Department up to $850,000 annually.

A provision in the school custodians' now-expired contract requires that they be notified once the School Department begins looking into privatization.

School officials also must provide the union an analysis of short- and long-term cost savings associated with privatization. The union has the right to offer a counterproposal.

To move forward with privatization, Keniston said the School Committee would likely take a vote on the matter before soliciting bids from private cleaning companies.

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