As the Oak Park and River Forest High School administration and its Building & Grounds Department employees discuss a new contract, high school officials this week said they will explore outsourcing for custodial services.

Administration and the union are currently in talks on a new contract. The custodians’ previous 5-year agreement expired June 30, and they’ve been working without a contract since. School officials said they’re exploring outsourcing as a cost-saving measure. A public hearing on the matter will take place at 7:30 p.m. next Thursday, Jan. 22, prior to the start of the District 200 Board of Education’s regular meeting. School officials said the hearing is to allow people to voice their opinion on the matter, but no decision will be made at Thursday’s board meeting on whether to outsource, said Jason Edgecombe, assistant superintendent for human resources.

According to the high school, for the 2007-2008 school year, the school’s 28 custodians earned a total of about $1.9 million in salary and benefits. The staff includes engineers, carpenters and painters. Edgecombe said that after Thursday’s hearing, the school will send out a Request for Proposal to third-party vendors interested in doing custodial work for the school. A decision on whether or not to outsource will be made by March, he added. The school explored outsourcing around this same time last year.

Last March, the board was scheduled to vote on a resolution giving the go ahead, but heard from some of the school’s custodians and their supporters opposed to outsourcing. The resolution failed because no board member offered a motion to bring it to a vote. Some board members at the time voiced opposition to the measure. Sharon Patchak-Layman on Monday said she’s still not in favor of outsourcing, noting it’s not clear what jobs the school wants to outsource.

“The assumption is it’s the same group, but what happens to those who are not outsourced and their representation? It’s the same contract for all of them, so is it everyone or just a few?”

Board President Jacques Conway, though, said outsourcing was an avenue the school still wants to pursue. The board, he said, wants to see what the cost savings would be. Patchak-Layman said the school should also consider holding a second hearing, given the number of people who spoke when this came up last March. At that meeting, several custodians argued they do more than just maintain the building. They also interact with students on a personal level. Edgecombe said interaction with students was not a specific requirement for custodians, but is a responsibility for all staff.

“There is the expectation that all of us will have positive interactions with students and adults. That’s what we expect from all employees.”

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