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Effective March 22, South Middleton School District will terminate the agreement it has with the outside contractor that provides night-shift building custodians.

School board members recently authorized district administrators to give ESS Southeast LLC of Knoxville, Tennessee, notice of the termination.

“We have had concerns with staffing and the quality of the work being done under the previous contract,” Board President Michael Berk said last week. “There was general dissatisfaction in the administration with the contractor.”

ESS Southeast had difficulty providing enough staff to fill the number of custodial positions the district had open, said Zach Gump, director of buildings and grounds.

The board last week approved a janitorial service agreement with ABM Industry Group LLC of Sugar Land, Texas, to provide all night-shift custodial services starting March 25. The contract will run from March 25 through June 20, 2022, with the option of two one-year extensions.

The board made contract approval pending on district solicitor Gareth Pahowka approving some minor changes in the agreement. The changes would extend the termination notice period from 30 to 90 days and would require ABM employees to work without overtime pay on federal holidays when school is in session.

Last spring the board approved the partial outsourcing of custodial staff as a cost-cutting measure to close a projected deficit in the budget for 2018-19. The goal was to save in pension and health care costs by removing a portion of its custodial staff from the district payroll.

When asked if the board had second thoughts, Berk said there is no looking back. “What we are trying to do now is to address concern that has been raised,” he said.

Though five-year cost projections account for incremental wage increases, it would still be cheaper in the long run for the district to outsource its night-shift custodians to ABM, board member Terry Draper said.

“As with any contract, it is only as good as how we enforce it,” Draper said, suggesting administrators implement monthly quality assurance inspections. “We are spending good money on a good contractor. We just need to make sure they are doing what we need them to do.”

The board last week also terminated a staff placement agreement it had with Unique Source of Mechanicsburg. That termination takes effect Feb. 28.

Unique Source is a nonprofit contract holder among 70 partner groups and state government, education and private customers seeking products manufactured and services performed by employees with disabilities.

At South Middleton, this took the form of a program that gave special needs students or adults the opportunity to work as a custodian within the school district.

Gump said the program was not getting the student interest Unique Source wanted so the company asked that the contract be terminated at the same time as the ESS Southeast agreement.

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Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com.

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Education/History Reporter

History and education reporter for The Sentinel.