School board debates contracting custodial services at Battle High School

Monday, October 8, 2012 | 11:35 p.m. CDT; updated 11:31 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 10, 2012

CORRECTION: *Several Columbia School Board members said at a meeting Monday they had reservations about changing school boundaries to address over-enrollment at Mill Creek Elementary School. If boundaries were changed, they would also need to be redrawn when a new elementary school opens on the south side of the city in 2016. Also, a different elementary school will go next to Battle High School. An earlier version of this article did not specify that over-enrollment impacts the Mill Creek area and confused the two elementary schools. **Also, the vote about the tobacco tax resolution was 5-t0-1; the vote was incorrect in an earlier version.

COLUMBIA —Discussion of custodial services at Battle High School dominated Monday night's Columbia School Board meeting.

The district is at a custodial service crossroads, Deputy Superintendent Nick Boren said. 

With Battle High School expected to open in 2013, the board is considering contracting these services, which is projected to save the district $254,104 annually, according to the district's proposed budget planning. The projected savings have made the board question how it handles those services.

"Is there a possibility we're just being inefficient?" said Board Member Jonathan Sessions.

Sessions and James Whitt, another board member, discussed how the district could run custodial services more efficiently and hire Columbia Public Schools custodians at Battle. They also mentioned concerns about wage and benefit discrepancies between the school district's employees and contracted employees.

The firm that the district has expressed interest in contracting with is GCA Services Group based in Knoxville, Tenn., Boren said.

Not only are wages projected to be lower for employees working under GCA, but the benefits are worse, Columbia Public School's Chief Financial Officer Linda Quinley said.

Christine King, School Board vice-president, wanted to know the cause of the wage and benefit discrepancy.

Superintendent Chris Belcher said although the discrepancies are unfair, part of the savings will come from the company's ability to negotiate a better price on chemicals and supplies than the district can. 

If the board does decide to contract GCA or any other third party firm, it will be on a trial basis.

"It makes sense to try it at Battle initially rather than doing it districtwide at first," board member Helen Wade said.

 The board will continue to discuss the options and make a decision at a later date. 

 Other issues:

  • *Several board members said they had reservations about changing school boundaries to address over-enrollment at Mill Creek Elementary School. If boundaries were changed, they would also need to be redrawn when a new elementary school opens on the south side of the city in 2016. Changing boundaries now and doing it again in three years would be hard on families, said Peter Stiepleman, assistant superintendent for elementary education

  • A second new elementary school, projected to open in 2015 adjacent to Battle High School, will accommodate 400 students, according to district diagrams at the meeting. The new school incorporates all the good elements from other elementary school buildings, Stiepleman said.

  • The board unanimously approved an 18-month contract with Kelly Educational Staffing to take over its substitute services.

    The company will start staffing substitutes in January, said Dana Clippard, assistant superintendent for human resources. The company will hire current district substitutes.
  • Mary Hussman and Linda Green both spoke out against Enhanced Enterprise Zones during public comment. Hussman said she does not have children and did not go through public schools but is concerned about the establishment of EEZs draining educational funding. Green agreed.

    "For many reasons EEZs are bad for Columbia," Green said. "But taking money away from our public schools would hit Columbia the hardest."

    Whitt sits on the city's Enhanced Enterprise Zones Board.

  • Belcher reported that more than 100 parents have signed up to attend the World Cafe on student transportation. The World Cafe will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at Stoney Creek Inn, 2601 S. Providence Road and will give parents and interested residents a forum to discuss school transportation and start times. 
  • **The board voted to support the tobacco tax resolution that will be on the upcoming ballot. It was a 5 to 1 vote, with Tom Rose, board president, dissenting because the public didn't have prior notification that the issue would be voted on at this meeting; Paul Cushing is no longer on the board. The resolution will increase Missouri's tax rate on tobacco products. This increase will raise Missouri's tax rate from the lowest in the nation to No. 36.

    King emphasized that she was more concerned with the health aspects of this resolution than with revenue. Board member Jan Mees said the resolution is a "win-win" for students.
  • The board voted unanimously to name the stadium at Hickman High School "Alumni Stadium." 

Columbia Missourian reporter Sky Chadde contributed to this report.

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