- Associated Press - Saturday, July 29, 2017

PURVIS, Miss. (AP) - Layoffs loom for nearly 50 custodians in Mississippi’s Lamar County School District.

The School Board at its July 10 meeting approved laying off between 40 and 46 custodians in January when the district brings in an outside service to clean its schools.

The Hattiesburg-American reports Superintendent Tess Smith and Human Resources Director Chris Wooten met with the janitors July 17 about the layoffs and that Jani-King of Southeast Mississippi would be taking over.

“They were upset about their future status,” she said when asked about their response. “There were several that said they wanted to remain a custodian and some that asked Chris and I how to apply for other jobs.”

Smith told the custodians they could apply for jobs in nutrition services, as bus drivers or as assistant teachers. As of July 21, there were only three job openings for which they were eligible.

The action to bring in Jani-King stemmed from a change at Oak Grove High School in 2013. A number of custodians retired there that year and Jani-King took over cleaning only that school.

“Jani-King did incredibly well and I had other schools begin to ask and request, ‘What does it cost us to do that?’” Smith said.

The district eventually hired Jani-King to clean Oak Grove Middle School and the Lamar County Center for Technical Education. In March, Chance asked Smith to look into how much it would cost for Jani-King to clean all the district’s schools.

Starting Jan. 18, Jani-King will service all the district’s cleaning needs, except for the Central Office, Alternative School, Parents as Teachers building and Technology Center. A district custodian will take care of those places.

Smith said she expects many of the custodians will get new jobs with Jani-King. She said when the cleaning service took over at Oak Grove Middle School and the Center for Technical Education it hired five of six district custodians. Only one though still works there.

Pat Thompson, with Jani-King, said his franchise owner had yet to have a meeting with the custodians. He declined to comment further.

The Jani-King contract will cost the district $83,368 per month. District budget manager Jennifer Hession did not answer when asked how much the district would save per year by hiring Jani-King, which will provide daily custodial services and annual floor care including waxing and carpet cleaning. Jani-King will also furnish all equipment and chemicals needed for cleaning.

“We will use the monies that were budgeted for custodial salaries and supplies to fund this service,” she said in an email.

When Smith was asked how much would be saved, she referred the question to Hession.

The janitors are paid between $7.99 and $10.61 an hour and receive state health insurance, retirement, personal and sick leave. Some other health benefits are available at a cost to the employee.

When asked why the district was bringing in Jani-King, Smith said it was because the school board wanted it.

“The board asked that I look at this as a district-wide option and that was presented to them, and they voted in support of it,” she said.


Information from: The Hattiesburg American, https://www.hattiesburgamerican.com

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