February 22 — 6:29 pm, 2012

District invites outside bidders to maintain its buildings

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook/WHYY’s NewsWorks 

Still searching for millions of dollars in savings and hoping to extract concessions from its largest blue-collar union, the cash-strapped School District has issued a request for proposals for outside vendors to provide facilities management services in hundreds of District-owned buildings.

The District is "seeking greater operational efficiencies and reduced costs through innovative building management solutions" at "approximately 400 buildings. comprising 10 million square feet of space," according to the RFP.

Potential vendors are asked to submit bids for how they might provide more efficient custodial, maintenance, and grounds services ranging from cleaning and pest control to building repair to snow removal. The invitation for bids appears to cover all District facilities.

But District spokesperson Fernando Gallard said no final decision has been made on whether the work now done by District employees should be outsourced to private contractors.

In its search for cost savings, Gallard said, "one area that warrants further analysis is the cost of maintenance and cleaning of the District’s facilities." He said the RFP "will allow the District to take a look at options."

"In addition, the District is engaged in ongoing conversations with Local 32BJ District 1201 bargaining unit to explore alternatives for comparable efficiencies and cost savings using a District workforce that would contribute to closing the budget gap for fiscal year 2013 and onward,” Gallard said

That union’s president, George Ricchezza, was guarded in his initial reaction to the request for proposals. "We’re looking at all the information as it comes in," he said.

For months, relations between the District and members of District 1201 of SEIU Local 32BJ have been tense. All of the union’s members – roughly 2,200  school bus drivers, mechanics, custodians, and other blue-collar workers – have recently received layoff notices, effective either sometime next fall or December 31, 2012. Their contract requires the District to give them one year advance notice before they can be terminated.

The School Reform Commission also recently decided to withhold a scheduled 3 percent raise due the blue-collar workers, a move that saved $1.4 million but provoked a massive turnout of District 1201 members at the SRC’s January 19 meeting.

At the time, Ricchezza called the move part of "the dismantling of the public school system." In response to the protest and Richezza’s remarks, SRC Chair Pedro Ramos promised to begin talks with the union, which are now underway.

The District hosted a vendor conference for respondents to the RFP today. Proposals are due March 9, and the "anticipated date of commencement of services" is July 2012, according to the RFP.  

The SRC is still seeking tens of millions of dollars in cuts to close a budget gap for this year. On top of that, the District has estimated the gap for next year is more than $260 million.

At the behest of new Chief Recovery Officer Tom Knudsen, the SRC recently hired an outside management consultant to lead a massive, rapid organizational restructuring and stabilize the District’s financial picture.

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