EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 11, 2009

School Department agrees not to hire private cleaning company

Custodians forgo hikes in exchange for pledge

By Brian Messenger

ANDOVER — The school custodians union has agreed to contract concessions in exchange for a guarantee the School Department will not cut costs by hiring a private cleaning company.

The 41 school custodians had been the only Andover employee union working without a contract. Details of a new contract were announced at Tuesday's School Committee meeting.

The custodians will forgo the 3.5 percent cost-of-living raises the majority of school employees will receive next year and also agreed to slash their overtime pay in half.

As a result, the School Department will save $101,500 next year.

In return, the School Committee agreed not to pursue the outsourcing of custodial services before June 30, 2010, the end of the next fiscal year.

"They were incredibly creative and collaborative in working with us on ways to reduce costs," said School Committee member Annie Gilbert. "It makes it a lot more likely that we can keep our own people beyond FY10 instead of outsourcing."

Before the contract agreement, Superintendent Claudia Bach planned to lay off 10 custodians next year and convert to an every-other-day cleaning schedule at schools.

But thanks to the concessions, Gilbert said such a schedule won't be needed.

Now, only four full-time and one part-time custodian face layoffs next year, she said.

Gilbert said at least two and potentially four custodians plan to retire next year.

Although they agreed to no cost-of-living raises next year, school custodians are still eligible for longevity raises.

They also will receive 3 percent retroactive raises for the previous and current fiscal years.

Other concessions agreed to by the custodians include:

* Paying more for health insurance under the same plan other school unions have agreed to.

* Cutting overtime and summer work in half and reducing the use of substitutes.

* Reducing a four-hour pay requirement for after-hours calls to two hours of pay.

* Eliminating $12,500 in stipends for additional duties.

* Cutting supply costs by 10 percent.

School Department officials first said in April they were examining the cost-savings associated with hiring a private cleaning company to replace work done by custodians.

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.

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.

The contract talks were led by Gilbert and School Committee member Dennis Forgue.

Representatives from the school custodians union could not be reached for comment.

There are eight School Department unions, representing teachers, administrators, secretaries, instructional assistants, food service employees, independent employees, registered nurses and licensed practical nurses.

Last week, an "overwhelming majority" of Andover teachers voted against negotiating salary concessions with the School Committee, the teachers union announced in a statement.

Bach and 15 school administrators agreed in May to forgo their 3.5 percent cost-of-living raises during the 2009-2010 school year.

Also in May, the School Department's 32-member independent employees union agreed to forgo 1.5 percent of their 3.5 percent raises next year.