Communities everywhere are trying to save money to balance their budgets. That requires new ways of thinking about old problems.
School buildings are valuable investments, the biggest investments most communities will make. These buildings must be well maintained so that they will last. But are there less expensive, equally effective ways to maintain school buildings? Andover is trying to find out.
Andover's schools this year budgeted $2 million for custodial services. Most of that — $1.9 million including $66,405 in overtime costs — covers salaries for the department's 41 janitors.
Andover Superintendent Claudia Bach knows she won't be able to spend as much in the coming year's budget. So she's looking into ways to keep the schools clean for less.
One possible solution is to move to an every-other-day cleaning schedule. Bach's budget for next year calls for the layoff of up to 10 custodians, which would make the alternate-days cleaning schedule necessary.
But what if the schools farmed out the cleaning to a private company? School officials are looking into that possibility as well. Newly elected School Committee member David Birnbach has said privatization could save the School Department up to $850,000 a year. School officials are trying to determine precisely how much money could be saved.
Now is the time to consider such options. The custodians are currently without a contract. Union rules require the custodians be notified if the school system considers privatization of cleaning services. The schools must also provide the union with an analysis of the potential savings. The union has the right to try to better any deal offered by a private contractor.
We're not aware of anyone complaining about the quality of work done by school custodians in Andover. But the budget savings must come somewhere. Better custodians than teachers.
Andover officials need to look into this carefully. We suspect it's a choice many would rather not make. But School Committee members were elected and school leaders hired to make tough decisions.
"These days, we know we have to reposition how we're delivering services and at what cost we're delivering services," Selectman Brian Major told reporter Brian Messenger. "Everything's on the table."
That is as it should be in a time of economic distress for taxpayers.