Brewer hires cleaning company to replace school custodians

Posted April 04, 2011, at 10:39 p.m.
Last modified April 05, 2011, at 5:05 a.m.

BREWER, Maine — Custodians, teachers, staff, residents and a student spoke passionately Monday night about keeping six custodian positions from the chopping block, but they made their pleas after the Brewer School Committee already had cut the jobs.

“We are caretakers,” said Doug Coston, a custodian at Brewer High School since 2006. “As the needs change, our jobs also change. We’re also painters and carpenters. We remove snow and provide security. We are the glue that hold this school together.”

The issue was the last item on the school board agenda and no public comments were made before the panel voted unanimously to hire ServiceMaster to clean the new 156,000-square-foot, two-story Brewer Community School, a pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school that will open in the fall.

The cleaning contract eliminates the need for six of the school department’s 12 custodians and will save around $100,000 annually, Superintendent Daniel Lee told the group of around 50 at the meeting before the vote.

After the decision was made, 13 in the audience spoke to the board in support of keeping the custodians.

“These kids know our names and see us every day,” Jeff Weeks, Brewer High School’s custodial staff supervisor and union vice president, told the board. “Are they [ServiceMaster janitors] going to unjam their lockers, help them find their coats?”

Weeks said that he was upset because Brewer support staff union members heard about the proposal on March 21, and basically were told it was already a done deal.

“I would respectfully ask the School Department not to lay off six dedicated employees,” he said.

Brewer resident Nicole Hanson, who has two children in the school system, said she wished the board had heard from people in the audience before they voted.

“It’s kind of an insult that you vote, and then we comment,” she said.

Art teacher Randy Menninghaus also voiced displeasure with the procedure.

“You voted before you heard our comments,” she said. “I’m sitting here stunned.”

Mark Farley, school board chairman, responded by saying he was surprised that no comments were offered during the public comments portion, held at the beginning of the meeting, or before the vote was taken.

Two Brewer teachers, high school social studies teacher Susan Dumont and third-grade teacher Amy Reif, education technician Kim Khoury-Kelley and retired Brewer teacher Martha Crossman, who taught for 37 years, all said custodians are a crucial part of a school’s makeup.

“They are my family,” Brewer High School senior Hannah Simmons said. “They are there for everybody and are a big factor in our schools.”

The School Department already subcontracts for busing services, a move made several years ago, Lee said, and ServiceMaster cleans the public safety building, City Hall and the library.

Lee said he understands people are upset about the job cuts, but said the move will save taxpayers money.

“I think if I didn’t offer you this opportunity, as a way to save money, I wouldn’t be doing my job,” the superintendent said. ServiceMaster can clean the school “for $101,000 less than we currently spend, and we’ll get 5,000 additional cleaning hours.”

During the meeting, the school board also got a second glimpse at the preliminary $19.6 million school budget for fiscal year 2011-12, and heard that three longtime employees are retiring. Elementary Principal Janet McIntosh, Brenda Peters, an ed tech II, and middle school social studies teacher Marilyn Cyr all will retire at the end of the school year.

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