Tag Archives: Virginia

How the Kochs are trying to shake up public schools, one state at a time

Source: Kimberly Hefling, Politico, October 30, 2017

With school choice efforts stalled in Washington, the billionaire Koch brothers’ network is engaged in state-by-state battles with teachers’ unions, politicians and parent groups to push for public funding of private and charter schools.  One of the newest campaigns is the Libre Initiative, a grassroots drive targeting Hispanic families in 11 states so far, under the umbrella of the Charles and David Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, a powerful conservative and libertarian advocacy group. … The group has had some initial success — for instance, helping to thwart a moratorium on charter school expansion in New Mexico. But it’s also created bitter divisions in the Latino community and led to accusations the Kochs are trying to undermine public education — and even in some cases, to subvert the Democratic process.

… Despite such criticism, the group is hunkering down for the long haul in states it views as ripe for change even as it eyes new states for expansion. Lima says it’s on track to make contact with more than 100,000 Hispanic households this year on school choice. Besides Nevada and New Mexico, Libre is organizing in Arizona, Colorado, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin. Its recent efforts, with other Koch-backed groups, include:

  • A planned “six-figure” spend in Nevada on “deep canvassing” in Hispanic neighborhoods to build support for educational savings accounts, which enable families to use state tax dollars to pay for private school. …
  • A lawsuit brought by Americans for Prosperity, among others, aimed at stopping a 2018 Arizona referendum asking voters whether they want to keep a school choice law passed earlier this year. …
  • A “six-figure” Libre and Americans for Prosperity campaign in Colorado this summer to promote charter schools and education savings accounts and another ahead of a Nov. 7 school board race by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation to push choice-friendly issues.
  • A seven-figure investment In Virginia’s gubernatorial race by Americans for Prosperity that includes a video criticizing Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, for his opposition to education savings accounts.
  • Mailings in Spanish and English supporting a Florida law that encourages charter schools in communities with low-performing schools. After Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, signed it into law, the state Democratic Party said he’d “declared war on our public schools.” …

After a two year fight, contract workers at National and Dulles airports win a pay increase

Source: Luz Lazo and Lori Aratani, Washington Post, April 19, 2017

… The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s board voted Wednesday to require companies that do business at the airports to pay contract workers a base hourly wage of $11.55 starting in January. In all, 4,500 workers — responsible for keeping terminals and plane cabins clean, moving bags, serving meals, and transporting people with disabilities — are expected to benefit from the pay increase. Many of the workers make as little as $7.25 an hour. The plan, approved on a 15 to 1 vote, also will boost pay for Dulles Toll Road workers. The expansion of the authority’s living wage program covers eight additional contracts, and will cost $750,000 to $850,000 annually, according to a report prepared for the board. The base hourly wage will increase to $11.55 on Jan. 1 of next year, $12.15 on Jan. 1, 2019, and $12.75 on Jan. 1, 2020. After that, increases will be tied to inflation.

… MWAA has a living wage policy in place that requires vendors who contract directly with the authority to pay workers $14.27 an hour. However the policy does not cover those who work for business who contract directly with the airlines or those who work for business that operate concessions. … While the policy raises the minimum wage for workers, it doesn’t address their push to require companies to pay for health benefits and submit to a labor peace agreement. …

This company is making millions from America’s broken immigration system

Source: Michael E. Miller, Washington Post, March 9, 2017
 
… More than 350,000 undocumented immigrants were detained between Oct. 1, 2015, and Sept. 30, 2016 — a number that could rise this year under President Trump’s immigration crackdown. As asylum seekers, visa violators and those charged with crimes wait for their cases to be heard in badly backlogged immigration courts, thousands are eligible for bail, just as they would be in criminal courts. Yet few can afford it.  Libre has found a niche helping them post their bonds — for a price. In exchange for their freedom, immigrants sign contracts promising to pay Libre $420 per month while wearing the company’s GPS devices. But these contracts are the subject of lawsuits and allegations of fraud by immigrants such as Flores who claim they didn’t understand them. … Few companies have benefited from the country’s broken immigration system like Libre. An unprecedented immigration court backlog of more than 540,000 cases, fueled by the Central American refu­gee crisis and coupled with soaring immigration bond prices, means that many detainees eligible for bail choose between spending many months behind bars or paying Libre’s fees.

… As Libre has expanded, its contracts and tactics have come under increasing scrutiny from immigration lawyers, advocates and elected officials. Both a Guatemalan government official and a California congresswoman have called for investigations, although an ICE inquiry three years ago concluded that the company was not breaking the law. Two lawsuits in California, including a class-action complaint filed last month, could bring new attention to the company’s business practices and the control it wields over the lives of its clients. … Last year, 12 percent of the country’s detained immigrants — more than 42,000 — found a way to post bond. There was no competition, although ICE itself contracts with a private company, BI, to monitor undocumented immigrants with GPS ankle bracelets instead of detaining them. The program, which has grown from 6,000 immigrants in 2013 to about 30,000 today, doesn’t cost immigrants anything. Instead, BI charges the government $4.41 per immigrant per day, according to a 2015 report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General. ICE spent about $50 million on the program last year. …

These For-Profit Schools Are ‘Like a Prison’

Source: Sarah Carr, Francesca Berardi, Zoë Kirsch and Stephen Smiley, ProPublica, March 8, 2017

… Over six months in 2013 and 2014, about a half-dozen parents, students and community members at Paramount Academy — billed as a “therapeutic” day program — complained of abusive behavior by the school’s staff. … Thirteen Camelot students have alleged in interviews or documents that they were shoved, beaten, or thrown — assaults almost always referred to as “slamming” — by Camelot staff members, usually for the sin of talking back, in separate incidents that span 10 years and three states. … Two additional students, and five Camelot staff members, say they have personally witnessed beatings or physical aggression by staff. The abuse allegedly occurred in Camelot programs in Reading; Lancaster; Philadelphia; New Orleans; and Pensacola, Florida. … Despite such allegations, Camelot has continued to expand. It contracts with traditional school districts to run about 40 schools across the country — schools that serve kids who have gotten into trouble, have emotional or behavioral issues, or have fallen far behind academically. In 2015, Camelot reported more than $77 million in revenue, more than a third from contracts with the school districts of Philadelphia, Houston, and Chicago. … About half a million students in the United States attend alternative schools, which are publicly funded but often managed by private, for-profit companies such as Camelot. Camelot’s story illustrates the risk that for-profit schools, which are favored by the Trump administration and new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, may put earnings ahead of student welfare. It also exposes the dismal educational options available to some students that traditional high schools don’t want to serve, because they are disruptive, severely disabled, years behind in school, or have criminal backgrounds.

… Add it all up, skeptics say, and the Camelot experience starts to resemble the nation’s incarceration system: racially biased, isolated, punitive, unnecessarily violent and designed, above all else, to maintain obedience and control. … Public school districts typically contract with Camelot to run one of three types of programs: “transitional schools” for kids with behavior issues; “therapeutic programs” for those with special behavioral and emotional needs; and “accelerated programs” for students who have fallen far behind. … Most Camelot students share two characteristics. They are nearly all poor. And they are overwhelmingly peopleof color. … The incidents at Camelot tended to follow a similar pattern, according to multiple accounts from students and staff members. Nonacademic staff members (usually the behavioral specialists and team leaders but sometimes higher-level employees) were permitted by administrators and school leaders to manhandle students as a form of intimidation — whether the teenagers had acted out or not. They preyed most often on students who had the least recourse to complain: social pariahs whose parents were disengaged or unable to advocate effectively, because they didn’t speak English, for instance. School leaders condoned the abuse and in some cases even encouraged it, according to Jandy Rivera and others. … In most middle- and upper-income communities, parents provide an informal yet crucial form of accountability for schools — protesting, and even suing over, mistreatment of their children. But this safety net is largely missing in the Camelot schools, where parents lack the knowledge, confidence, resources or language skills to complain. Those who have come forward say that few people in positions of power, including school officials, lawyers and police officers, take them seriously — if they listen at all. …

Can a Private Company Teach Troubled Kids?
Source: Alexia Fernandez Campbell, The Atlantic, August 27, 2016

Disruptive students are a headache for public schools. They distract from lessons, skip class, and often bring down the graduation rates. That’s why school districts across the country have resorted to opening alternative schools in recent decades, with hopes that smaller classes and individual attention might help these students get their diplomas. But even these alternative schools (which differ from charter schools in that they are still part of school districts and thus answer to superintendents) can be a burden: They’re expensive to run, and their graduation rates are still pretty low. Desperate for help, many school districts are now hiring private companies to manage these alternative schools and educate their most troublesome students. … Richmond is one of the latest cities to experiment with outsourcing education. In July, the city hired a Texas-based company called Camelot Education to run the Richmond Alternative School, which last year served 223 students from across the city in grades 6 through 11. Nearly all of the students at Richmond Alternative are black (97 percent) and most are poor (87 percent qualify for free lunches). Some black parents once dubbed it the “colored children’s prison” and it has been criticized for contributing to what’s called the school-to-prison pipeline—Virginia is the state that refers the most students to law enforcement. …

… The turn to the private sector is not new for Richmond. In 2004, the city hired a private company to run a previous iteration of its alternative school, which was then called the Capital City Program. The $4.6 million agreement with a Tennessee-based company called Community Education Partners was the school district’s most expensive contract that year. … The quality of the education provided by Community Education Partners turned out to be substandard, according to a Richmond Magazine investigation, which found that a third of the school’s teachers were not credentialed. Elsewhere, schools run by Community Education Partners were not faring much better. The American Civil Liberties Union in Georgia sued the company in 2008 for allegedly providing “fundamentally inferior” education to students at an alternative school in Atlanta—an environment “so violent and intimidating that learning is all but impossible.” Atlanta canceled its contract with the company, and a year later, so did the city of Philadelphia. …

… The teachers who have been working at Richmond Alternative the past few years will have an opportunity to interview for teaching positions with Camelot, Bock says, but, if hired, they will be required to undergo the company’s de-escalation and behavior modification training. Companies such as Camelot can pay teachers less if they choose to, as they are not subject to collective bargaining agreements with the local teachers’ union. … This may be the first time that Richmond will work with Camelot, but data on the company’s presence in Philadelphia provides a fuller picture of its track record. Camelot was one of half a dozen companies running Philadelphia’s alternative schools in the past decade, the largest experiment in privatizing alternative education to date. …

Petersburg water committee formed

Source: John Adam, The Progress-Index, March 7, 2017

In an eventful night for the city council, each council member appointed a citizen to an ad hoc committee, whose duty it will be to further examine the bids for the water system. The ad hoc committee, will be tasked with “collecting relevant data relating to the operations of the water and sewer systems of the city”. This committee will study other localities that have privatized its water system, and it will also rank alternatives to selling the system with supporting justifications. … The committee will look at the bids submitted by Aqua Virginia Water Company and Virginia American Water Company, and will report its findings to the committee in the upcoming months. …

Petersburg considers privatizing water department; residents call for more changes
Source: Brent Solomon, NBC12, December 14, 2016

Petersburg leaders will consider handing over the city-owned water department to a private vendor. This comes after a debacle dating back several months with the city’s utility department following inaccurate bills, faulty water meters, and not enough staff members to handle all of the concerns. One company has already put in a bid to take over the city’s water department. Now, Petersburg must advertise to see who else is willing to step up to the plate. Residents have had enough when it comes to the city water woes, forcing those who run the city to take a closer look. … Bobb urged council to consider handing over the water department to an outside company. Council members approved the recommendation. There are about 25 or so employees in the department. Bobb explained what would happen to their jobs. “Employees are always protected,” Bobb said. “That’s what you’d want to see in this deal?” NBC 12 asked. “It will absolutely happen,” he responded. The company would handle billing and collections for Petersburg. The city will now advertise to see if there are any other bids and review the options over the next 45 days. …

How the Uber effect will reinvent public transit

Source: Rahul Kumar, American City & County, February 15, 2017

A recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) came to the headline-grabbing conclusion that up to 95 percent of New York City taxi rides could be met through only 2,000 on-demand 10-person shuttles. The study demonstrates what companies like Uber and Lyft are striving toward, but also what many public transit agencies are struggling to address: that future transportation systems will seamlessly and dynamically match riders with the best transit modes and routes. … Existing fixed route-based transit systems are just that: fixed. There are plenty of advantages to these systems, not the least of which is operational simplicity. But our nation’s backbone of transit agencies – often overburdened and underfunded – should be asking themselves “what service options do riders want?” as opposed to “what service options are the easiest for us to deliver?” The answer is personal public transit. This concept of on-demand mobility isn’t all that new, however. … Another issue is the cost and operation of paratransit. … Transit agencies from Boston to Washington have recently started to look to partners like Uber and Lyft to help provide a ride-hailing option to relieve fiscal and infrastructure pressures. A 2016 Brookings report estimates transit agencies could save $1.1 billion to $2.2 billion per year using ride-hailing companies for paratransit, based on an average $13 to $18 per ride. However, the secret here is that versus transit these savings do not scale up very well; ride-hailing services are really not designed to handle simultaneous, multiple trips efficiently, therefore even a bus with six passengers on it has less of a cost impact than six separately ordered Uber vehicles. … Forward-thinking city planners in Gainesville, Fla., and Helsinki are reevaluating the traditional transit equation and instead choosing to co-opt ridesharing and even autonomous vehicle technology to fill current service gaps in less densely populated areas. … Solving the inefficiency riddle will ultimately require transit agencies, technology companies and other innovators to seamlessly work together to maximize social benefits because public transit benefits every American—even if you don’t ride.

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Cities release invoices showing Uber bills
Source: Ryan Gillespie, Orlando Sentinel, January 25, 2017

Five Central Florida cities that cut deals with Uber hoping to boost SunRail ridership have released records revealing how much money they will pay the ride-sharing service, which the company had hoped to keep a “trade secret.” Cities began receiving invoices this week that tabulated costs through Jan. 17, which just surpasses the halfway point of the yearlong program. To that date, the highest total came from Altamonte Springs, which has paid for $14,863.59 in Uber rides. Sanford received a bill showing it owed $7,869.99. Additionally, Lake Mary owes $723.38 and Longwood owes $681.17, and Maitland owes $324.65 records show. In July, the cities began the one-year pilot with Uber to cover 25 percent of Uber fares on rides that start or finish at a SunRail station, and also start or finish within a city’s limits. Cities also cover 20 percent of rides on trips that start and finish within the borders of participating cities. …

Can public transit and ride-share companies get along?
Source: Kyle Shelton, The Conversation, September 22, 2016

In Centennial, Colorado and Altamonte Springs, Florida, residents and visitors can now get a free ride to the nearest train station. The ride is paid for by the local public transit agency, but it’s not a public bus that makes the trip. Rather, it’s a car driven by someone working for ride-sharing companies Lyft and Uber. There are potential public benefits – the hope of increased ridership, better service for hard-to-serve areas and cost and equipment efficiencies. Competition could push sometimes slow-moving transit agencies to innovate and improve. There are also risks. Ride-sharing companies have devastated the private taxi market, effectively undercutting the entire industry in some cities. Mobility rights advocates and transit employees fear the same thing could happen to public transit, remaking, under private ownership, the way millions of Americans get around every day. … A likely outcome of ride-share and authority interaction is more of what is already taking shape in Colorado, Florida and many other locales – small-scale, replicable cooperation. Centennial and Altamonte Springs are attempting to address what is know in the transportation sector as the “first mile/last mile” problem. The idea is that many potential transit riders don’t use the service because it’s too far from either the beginning or end of a given trip. Offering ride-sharing as a way to connect from the doorway to the transit stop may help overcome this issue. … The biggest question about these new relationships is how well they meet riders’ needs over time. Disability rights advocates have already warned that substituting ride-share services for existing agency-run paratransit programs – on-demand rides for users with disabilities – may be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Public agencies and most private transportation companies are bound to provide these services to all users, but it’s not yet clear whether newer ride-sharing companies must also – or how contracting with a government agency might require it. …
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Metro halts plans to privatize parking

Source: Max Smith, WTOP, November 18, 2016

Metro has canceled a request for proposals to privatize its parking lots. Documents related to the procurement, dated Thursday, say that Metro must re-evaluate the requirements. When Metro published the initial formal request in September, it hoped to find a way to give a private company the responsibility for maintenance and upgrades in exchange for the rights to collect parking fees. General Manager Paul Wiedefeld included privatizing parking on his list of potential management changes for Metro back in March. Concerns about the proposal included whether there could be a conflict between maximizing parking revenue and maximizing the number of people who take the train rather than joining D.C. area traffic jams.

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The Deal That Could Hurt D.C. For 50 Years
Source: Donald Cohen, Huffington Post, September 15, 2016

Public transit in Washington, D.C., is in rough shape. After years of safety issues, including several train collisions, the agency in charge, the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA), is proposing to cut train service hours. But another proposal may be even more troubling. Two weeks ago, WMATA began taking bids from private companies to operate its parking facilities. In exchange for a big up-front payment to the agency, the winning company would collect fees from people parked at train stations for the next 50 years. … It discourages public transit. In order for the private company to make a profit, parking rates will have to go up — as much as 3% a year, according to WMATA. If it costs more money to park and ride the train, people may look for other ways into the city. We lose control of assets we own. In a similar 75-year deal, Chicago handed over its parking meters in 2008 to banking giant Morgan Stanley for a one-time $1.2 billion payment. But that’s not all it handed over. The city is penalized if they do anything that cuts into Morgan Stanley’s profit, like adding bus or bike lanes. … It’s short-term thinking. The parking facilities currently pull in nearly $50 million a year for WMATA. Privatization would send that money—and more—to a private company instead of the public. In Chicago, Morgan Stanley is on pace to make back its $1.2 billion upfront payment by 2020, with more than 60 years of meter money still to come. …

Metro Seeking Private Contractor to Manage Its Parking Garages; Prices Could Go Up
Source: Scott MacFarlane, NBC Washington, September 3, 2016

Metrorail is preparing to hand over responsibility of its lucrative parking garages to a private contractor, the News4 I-Team has learned. WMATA currently manages 26 parking garages and 30 parking lots among its stations in D.C., Virginia and Maryland. Now the agency is seeking bids from companies interested in operating, financing and maintaining the transit system’s parking system. … While WMATA would be giving up the bulk of its parking revenue, the contract would grant money to WMATA. While the amount is unknown, it could exceed WMATA’s current parking revenues. In its proposal to would-be contractors, WMATA suggests the price of “base parking fees” increase 3 percent each year for the duration of the deal. The agency said it would also consider expanding the hours during which parking is charged, to include holidays and late nights. … The bids from private contractors are due by Oct. 28. WMATA is seeking a 50-year agreement with the contractor, according to an agency proposal reviewed by the I-Team. The proposal said it expects to close the deal by next July 1. The contractor would oversee the system’s 59,267 daily parking spaces, 56 parking lots and garages, and 3,445 parking meters. …

Maryland’s Move to Pull Children From Group Homes Came Too Late for Teenager Who Died

Source: Heather Vogell, ProPublica, October 13, 2016

Once again, government actions against a controversial for-profit company’s chain of group homes for the disabled may have come too late to protect a child. ProPublica has learned that Maryland had begun pulling about 30 children out of homes owned and managed by AdvoServ in August, but hadn’t yet relocated a teenage girl when she died a month later after being manually restrained by staff. … Maryland, which plans to terminate its contract with AdvoServ at the end of this month, isn’t the only state to have increased its scrutiny of the company since the ProPublica series. In March, Delaware placed the company on probation, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families said. In June, Florida officials said they had begun moving clients out of the company’s facility in the state, and stationed an investigator there. Through a spokesman, the company declined to comment on the decisions by Maryland and Delaware regulators. AdvoServ’s shortcomings add to the growing concerns about for-profit companies taking over delivery of human services, from prisons to hospice care, that were traditionally provided by government or non-profit agencies. … Officials elsewhere have repeatedly backed off from sanctioning the company, which is aided by well-connected lobbyists that include prominent former state legislators. In 2012, for example, Florida reneged on plans to bar an AdvoServ home, where both adults and a child had allegedly been punched and kicked, from accepting new clients for a year. … The girl was not the first teenager to die at an AdvoServ home. In 1997, a 14-year-old autistic boy with epilepsy was found dead in his bed with low levels of anti-seizure medicine in his blood. In 2013, a 14-year-old autistic girl died at the company’s Florida home after a night in which she was restrained — at times fastened to a bed and chair — while she vomited repeatedly. …

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Teenage Girl Dies After Incident at For-profit Group Home
Source: Heather Vogell, ProPublica, September 20, 2016

A teenage girl died last week after an incident at a group home in Delaware run by a for-profit company, AdvoServ, whose long record of problematic treatment ProPublica chronicled last year. Attorney Chris Gowen, who has a lawsuit against AdvoServ concerning a different teen, said he has learned workers were manually restraining the girl when she became unresponsive. He and his clients have spoken to current and former workers about the incident. … Delaware state police and regulators also haven’t said what happened to the 15-year-old from Maryland. The state medical examiner’s office is conducting an autopsy, but a spokeswoman said the results will not be made public. Maryland is one of several states that send difficult cases to AdvoServ because they cannot find beds and schooling closer to home. The company, which is owned by a private equity firm, is based in Delaware and reported last year that it cared for roughly 700 children and adults in that state, Florida, and New Jersey, and was expanding into Virginia. …

… The girl is not the first child to die under questionable circumstances at AdvoServ’s homes and schools. In 2013, Paige Lunsford, 14 and autistic, died at the company’s Florida complex after a night in which she was restrained – at times latched to a bed and chair – while she vomited repeatedly. And in 1997, 14-year-old Jon Henley, who was autistic and had epilepsy, was found dead in his bed one morning after an apparent seizure. An autopsy revealed low levels of anti-seizure medication in his blood. Regulators in multiple states have fielded decades of complaints of abuse, neglect and inadequate medical care at AdvoServ facilities. … A former worker for AdvoServ in Delaware, who asked that his name not be used, said he left three years ago in part because he felt staff did not receive enough training in deescalating conflicts or restraining clients. The company had been trying out new restraint procedures that were supposed to make restraints less forceful by involving more staff members. But, he said, with too few staff often available to carry out the restraints as planned, “It just becomes unsafe.” …

… The company is one of the few group home operators that still use restraint devices to confine clients who become aggressive. As ProPublica has reported, AdvoServ staff used such mechanical restraints on clients at its 200-bed campus northwest of Orlando roughly 28,000 times. Florida officials said in June that they were moving clients out of AdvoServ’s complex and stationing an investigator there to provide extra oversight during the transition, which they expected to take months.

Chesterfield custodial outsourcing saved $7.1 million

Source: Sean CW Korsgaard, Progress Index, September 26, 2016

When Chesterfield County school officials first made the decision to outsource custodial services, there was a great amount of concern and protest that the schools wouldn’t be cleaned. Less than two years later, it’s now clear not only are the schools still getting cleaned, but in terms of money saved, Chesterfield cleaned house. At a school board meeting earlier this month, school officials said that privatizing custodial services for the majority of the county’s 62 schools has resulted in $7.1 million in savings, which will now be sent toward classroom instruction. … The choice to outsource janitorial services to contractors at what was initially just eight schools in the 2014-15 school year was made with the goal of saving $1.5 million. The move drew nearly 200 complaints from teachers and school staff who wanted to keep those jobs “in house” — most notably from the Chesterfield Education Association, which represents more than a thousand teachers throughout the county. In spite of this, the program was expanded from those eight schools to 41 schools last year, with another 21 schools added this year. SSC Service Solutions, based out of Knoxville, Tennessee, which has had an agreement with Virginia Commonwealth University since 1994, has handled custodial services for the past year. About 500 custodians employed by SSC currently work in the school system, many of them former county employees. …

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Superintendent: Custodial outsourcing is here to stay
Source: Jim McConnell, Chesterfield Observer, September 21, 2016

Regardless of problems that occurred during its implementation, the county’s school system won’t abandon the outsourcing of custodial services to a private contractor. Chesterfield County Public Schools Superintendent James Lane noted during last week’s School Board meeting that the school system simply cannot afford to reverse course on outsourcing custodial work at county schools. … Chris Sorensen, assistant superintendent for finance, presented the School Board last week with a document that shows by the end of fiscal year 2017, the school system expects to save nearly $7.1 million over the first three years of custodial outsourcing. That’s $400,000 less than originally projected – a result, Sorensen said, of the board’s decision last year to retain nine custodians on the school system’s payroll who each had between 25 and 29 years of service. … More than 400 other custodians have lost their jobs over the past three years as the School Board sought to free up additional resources that could be used in the county’s classrooms. … The School Board implemented the final phase of its outsourcing program July 1, when Tennessee-based SSC Service Solutions assumed responsibility for custodial services at all 65 county schools and seven other buildings. … The School Board has come under fire both for its decision to outsource custodians, who were among its lowest-paid employees in the county school system, and for the performance of its selected contractors. Smith and Vice Chairwoman Carrie Coyner are the only current School Board members who were on the board when the school system hired GCA Services Group to manage custodial services at eight schools during the 2014-15 school year. By May 2015, the school system had logged nearly 200 complaints about the company’s performance. Most of the complaints noted a general lack of cleanliness at the outsourced schools, but there were also concerns about custodians failing to report for work on time and refusing to perform assigned duties. Several concerned citizens asked the School Board to abandon the outsourcing program and rehire custodians that had been terminated. Instead, the school system solicited a new round of proposals and chose SSC Service Solutions to take over the custodial contract. …

In Chesterfield, custodial outsourcing saved school system $7.1 million
Source: Markus Schmidt, Richmond Times-Dispatch, September 18, 2016

Chesterfield County school officials say their decision to outsource custodial services for most of the county’s 62 schools has produced $7.1 million in savings that’s being sent toward classroom instruction. The School Board’s decision to outsource the work two years ago sparked controversy over complaints of insubordination, poor management, and a general unwillingness to clean school facilities on the part of the private contractor that took over for school janitors. But because of the significant savings, reversing the decision would be impractical, Superintendent James F. Lane said after a presentation by the division’s finance department at last week’s School Board meeting. … Hoping to save $1.5 million in the 2014-15 school year by laying off school janitors and replacing them with a private contractor, the School Board hired Richmond-based GCA Service Group to begin the eight-school pilot program. But the division’s experiment generated nearly 200 complaints from teachers and principals that year alone. In one case, a woman who did not work for the company returned a full set of school keys to Lloyd C. Bird High School because she said the custodian who worked for GCA had been “thrown in jail,” according to a complaint. GCA was paid $1.64 million for the first 12 months that it handled the division’s custodial services. … For the second year, the division changed vendors and awarded the contract to Knoxville, Tenn.-based SSC Service Solutions, which has had an agreement with Virginia Commonwealth University since 1994. The new contract expanded the program from eight to 41 schools; the remaining 21 schools are included this year. The school system has not yet assessed the number of complaints about SSC to compare it with the number of complaints about GCA. … School officials initially projected that the division would save $7.5 million over three years. But keeping the nine workers employed by the school system will cost about $400,000 between now and 2021. The school system decided to account for the $400,000 cost now. …

Potentially harmful chemicals dumped outside dozens of Chesterfield County schools
Source: Mark Tenia, WRIC, September 4, 2015

Last month Chesterfield County’s environmental team let the school system know they had gotten an alert that floor cleaner had been dumped onto the ground outside of 36 schools. The county notified the state Department of Environmental Quality. … Officials say the custodians were trained on properly disposing chemicals, and have since been retrained. … Earlier this year Martin voiced concerns over outsourced custodians from GCA Services Group, responsible for eight schools in Chesterfield.  There were nearly 200 complaints against the company. A few months ago the school system announced a cleaning contract with SSC at 41 Chesterfield schools, all in an effort to save more than $3 million.

Custodial outsourcing: ‘This time it’s a lot better’
Source: Michael Buettner, Chesterfield Observer, June 24, 2015

School officials have expressed confidence that thorough upfront vetting and multiple layers of accountability will ensure that an expanded program of privatized custodial services at county schools will go more smoothly than the limited program that started last year. A committee of school principals and central office administrators has been working to finalize details of a contract with Knoxville, Tennessee-based SSC Service Solutions, and committee members said they already have been impressed with the company’s professionalism and attention to details. … The school division rolled out privatized custodial services at eight of the county’s 62 schools last year, and the contractor, GCA Services Group of Cleveland, Ohio, came under fire after school officials logged nearly 200 complaints about GCA custodians. The complaints ranged from failure to clean items like athletic mats to failing to lock schools’ exterior doors at night. Temple said she was still finding doors that had been left unlocked just the week before. “I feel like security is one of the biggest things [SSC is] bringing to us,” she said. A major purpose of the privatization program is to cut the school system’s spending on custodial services by $3.6 million, with the savings to be used to fund a 2 percent increase in teacher salaries….. SSC is in the process of hiring a regional manager who will work directly with Chesterfield [county], and school officials have participated in the interviewing process for that position, Evans said. …

Tazewell Co. considers privatizing management of county landfill

Source: Justin McLennan, WVVA, September 21, 2016

The Tazewell County Board of Supervisors is looking over a proposal by a Tennessee-based waste management service to take over the operation of the county’s landfill. One county official tells us the option makes good financial sense. But some residents are concerned about what it could mean for them. For decades, the Tazewell County landfill on Lynn Hollow road has been operated and owned by the county. … As it works now, Tazewell County residents can dump their trash here at no charge. But with the possibility of a private company taking over the day-to-day operations, some worry it would be the county’s residents left holding the bag. … According to Stacy, operating the landfill will cost the county $2.7 million next year. Santek Waste Services approached the county in February with a proposal that could save the county money. …