May 20, 2018
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Proposal would cut six custodians from Brewer schools

Michael C. York | BDN
Michael C. York | BDN
Custodian Carl Crossman wipes down classroom tables as he makes his rounds through the Capri street school in Brewer Tuesday.
By Nok-Noi Ricker, BDN Staff

BREWER, Maine — The school board will hear a proposal Monday that will save more than $100,000 a year, but it will mean cutting six custodians from the budget, Superintendent Daniel Lee said Tuesday.

“I’m going to propose to the Brewer School Committee that they consider contracting cleaning for the new school,” he said. “My proposal adds 5,000 man-hours to clean that school annually at an overall savings, excluding unemployment for the first year, of $101,168.”

School officials had been planning to add two custodians to the rolls to help clean the massive 156,000-square-foot, two-story Brewer Community School, which will consolidate five aging schools when it opens in the fall, but the expense of doing so is very costly, Lee said.

“If we were to add the man-hours needed to clean the building as we should, we’d have to lay off teachers,” he said. “It’s not like we want to lay off people, but we’re looking at the bottom line. We owe it to the taxpayers.”

By subcontracting the service, “we’re getting more cleaning and saving money, but to do that there will be a layoff, if the school board supports it,” Lee said.

Six of the school department’s 12 custodians would lose their jobs if the proposal moves forward, he said.

Members of the Brewer support staff union, which covers maintenance, custodian and kitchen staff, heard about the proposal on March 21, Jeff Weeks, Brewer High School’s custodial staff supervisor and union vice president, said Tuesday.

“We’re disappointed in the way this issue has all come about,” he said. “It was presented to us that it was a done deal.”

Union members were told at last week’s meeting that the final day for half of Brewer’s custodians would be June 17, Weeks said.

“That was the first we’ve heard of it,” he said. “We’re looking into this issue further. There is a lot of questions that still need to be answered.”

School officials and the union are negotiating possible severance packages, paid time off or other compensation for those who would lose their jobs, Lee said, adding he could not give specifics about the ongoing talks.

The decision to propose the change was not driven by costs alone, Gretchen Gardner, the school district’s business manager, said Tuesday.

The new school was designed under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system, which means it is a certified “green” building and those who clean it will need to use national Green Seal standards, she said.

By subcontracting with a LEED-certified cleaning service, the school department would ensure that the cleaning provided meets the strict green cleaning standards, and the school would avoid paying to train the department’s custodians, Gardner said.

When the preliminary $19.6 million school budget for fiscal year 2011-12 was unveiled at the March school board meeting, the panel learned that six ed techs and one maintenance worker would be eliminated when the four soon-to-be vacant elementary schools and Brewer Middle School are consolidated into one.

At that time, Lee said, “We’re not done — $106,000 still has to come out.”

The school department already subcontracts for busing services, a move made several years ago, Lee said, adding that the city hires people to clean the police and fire station, City Hall and the library. As with all employees, the school department would run a background check on everyone hired to clean the school, the superintendent said.

“I recognize that emotions run high with this sort of proposal,” Lee said. Laying off employees is “heartbreaking,” especially since “the job market is tough right now,” he said.

Monday’s school board meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. at Brewer High School.

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