The business of whittling the bottom line became tangible Monday for the Gulf County School Board.
During a special meeting, board members unanimously approved privatizing custodial services for at least the next school year, hoping to save $80,000-$100,000 as the district addresses a budget shortfall of nearly $900,000.
“That money is money that is keeping us from cutting into teacher ranks,” said Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton.
Norton has estimated that 12-15 teaching positions are likely to be trimmed.
And while tough just the start, the pain of removing employees, many of them long-term, from the district workforce was evident among board members.
“None of this is taken lightly,” said board member John Wright. “Anytime you have layoffs there is a real concern. We’ve looked at this for months and shed a tear or two.”
Board member Billy Quinn, Jr., said, “Some of these folks are our neighbors, people we see in the grocery store. We are going to be watching this process.”
The process, though not formally ratified during Monday’s meeting, is to “piggy-back” on a similar move and contract from Bay County, Norton said.
Bay County went out for qualifications and bids and four companies applied. Bay County School District chose the lowest bidder, GCA Education Services out of Knoxville, TN.
GCA made a presentation at the prior Gulf School Board meeting and Norton said the intention would be to “piggy-back” on the Bay County contract since the district had been through the qualification and bid process.
The School Board has not yet finalized a contract with GCA, only specified that the district will privatize custodial services.
The privatization will impact 11-12 employees, who will be laid off by the district.
Through an agreement between GCA and the district, those employees will be provided first opportunity to apply for the same positions under GCA, Norton said.
He said the largest impact would be that the employees would no longer be paying into the Florida public employees retirement system though those vested would maintain their current balances.
“This really should as seamless a transition as could be,” Norton said.
The savings the district will realize should be on the high side of the ballpark provided Monday as the most basic level of services provided by GCA will be an improvement for county schools, maintenance/transportation director Greg Layfield said.
“We don’t have adequate coverage, especially at the high schools” in light of workforce cuts the past several years, Layfield said. “They would provide an upgrade from where we are now.”
But the decision to privatize custodial, Norton made clear Monday, was just a toe in the water for the coming budget cycle, which will begin in earnest at the regular board meeting next week.
The board will at that time take up the formal contract for custodial services as well as begin the examination of areas identified by Norton and district staff for possible cuts.
“The staff and I, we have our work cut out for us,” Norton said.
The district must still trim, at least, $760,000 from the budget, a process that is likely to mean impacts not only to the workforce but potentially to programs.
The pain was already showing Monday.
“It takes everybody, from the school bus driver to the lunch room server to teachers to custodial,” said board member Linda Wood. “Everybody is of equal importance.”