Northwest Horizons

GCS looking to outsource custodians

Sodexo is the company the GCS school board is considering to outsource custodial duties for all schools in the county.

Sodexo is the company the GCS school board is considering to outsource custodial duties for all schools in the county.

Sodexo is the company the GCS school board is considering to outsource custodial duties for all schools in the county.

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It’s May 2016 at about 7 a.m. A palpable smell of lavender consumes the up and downstairs hallways of the New Building. A senior prank has just been committed: baby oil has been rubbed all over the floors, and a slippery accident is just waiting to happen.

“Administration wasn’t here yet,” custodian Darryl Williams recalls. “We were the first to respond to that incident.”

Indeed, by the time the first period bell rang at 8:55 a.m., the mess had been properly cleaned up, and school progressed as normal that day. But what if Northwest’s morning team of custodians hadn’t been there?

Guilford County Schools Board of Education recently discussed in an October meeting the possibility of outsourcing custodial work to Sodexo, a Greensboro company that can send workers to schools each day to clean the building. According to their website, Sodexo “creates clean, safe living and learning environments that inspire and drive success.”

The Board of Education claims they are just trying to get schools cleaner in a more efficient manner; however, Williams believes it’s all about the budget.

“It’s about [saving money for] retirement, insurance, benefits,” Williams said.

Custodians are usually full-time employees who receive sick days, health insurance and retirement benefits. They are also some of the state’s lowest-paid employees, making less than $24,000 a year.

But what many don’t realize is the amount of work custodians actually do in a school. As Williams puts it, they are the “eyes and ears” for the school’s administration, and they often “bridge the gap” between the students and the staff.

In the building’s off-hours, there are always custodians who have been trained and background-checked not just for cleaning but serving as supervisors of unattended students.

Often times problems that could escalate into big issues are diffused by on-site custodians before teachers or administrators even know about it.

Williams recalls one morning before school this year when administration or teachers hadn’t arrived yet.

“Two kids were in the bathroom at 7:30,” Williams said. “I went in and asked, ‘What are y’all doing?’ They looked as though they were about to start vaping, but they said, ‘just chilling.’ I asked them if they could ‘just chill’ out in the hallway, and they said, ‘Sure.’”

Williams says his relationship with the kids allowed for what could have become a disciplinary issue to resolve itself quickly and efficiently.

Custodians help break up fights, and because of their training, they often can respond to a fire faster than the local fire department in the case of an emergency. They resolve issues that require pesticide or instances of vandalism quickly. During the summer, they strip and wax the school’s floors. They also often work at games and school dances to provide extra security and support.

“Custodians care,” Williams said.

However, while the county deliberates on this decision, there is currently a hiring freeze on custodians. Northwest itself is down three custodians and a lead custodian, so the work of an entire staff rests on just a few men’s shoulders.

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GCS looking to outsource custodians