St. James School Board questions custodial contract

Published 11:45 pm Friday, October 17, 2014

By Stephen Hemelt

LUTCHER — Discussion about St. James Parish Schools’ janitorial services turned passionate this week when School Board members and administrative staff disagreed over contract renewal knowledge, leading one school board member to say the agreement was no longer valid.

Terrance Ransfer and Brent Gautreau, who represent Aramark, spoke to St. James Parish School Board members Tuesday night, explaining the company’s role with the school district.

“I would say you all are paying us to manage a scope of work, and that scope of work is to be able to do X amount of things from within the scope of work,” Ransfer said. “It is up to us to decide how to go about meeting that scope of work.

“We manage to a scope of work and we try to figure what makes sense in order to accomplish that scope of work.”

Ransfer and Gautreau explained they subcontract with Baton Rouge-based Jani-Care for custodial personnel and provide supervision and training of those employees to service St. James Parish schools and facilities.

A few School Board members expressed surprise at hearing Aramark employees were not the workers utilized in the schools.

“I’m not saying it’s not worth it,” District 4 school board member George Nassar Jr. said. “I’m not saying it is, I’m just saying we need to look at it, because maybe we can sub out the janitorial. I was just surprised at the way this was done and found out about it way down the road.”

District 1’s Diana Cantillo asked if Aramark would consider subcontracting with St. James custodial operators, for which she was told yes, before praising the company for providing strong service.

“In Gramercy, we had unexpected damage as far as flooding, and y’all’s company just came in and did a tremendous job in taking a load off our principals,” she said. “That is where I was very pleased with Aramark.”

In an effort to ease Board members’ concerns over who was providing the work, Gautreau said all staff members are local.

“Even though it’s Jani-Care, all the employees we hire, they are from this parish,” Gautreau said. “We hire our pool of workers from this parish. We only run our ads in the local papers.”

Gautreau said anyone seeking custodial employment could drop off or pick up an application at Lutcher High School.

School district officials said the parish can seek a different contract or setup outside of its agreement with Aramark, legally allowed to exit the contract in two months, but added the cost would double if the parish took on the responsibility with district personnel.

Superintendent Lonnie Luce said he appreciated the management Aramark provides.

“The training piece and some of the liability factors that come into this have been very good,” Luce said. “I think some of you have seen the tremendous difference that some of our schools look like today verses a few years ago.”

Outside of who the custodial employees worked for, the biggest point of contention at Tuesday’s meeting centered around the School Board’s notification of the services contract.

Jim Mitchell, administrative director of business operations for the School Board, said the Aramark contract contains a stipulation for a 60-day cut at anytime the district is not happy or Aramark is not happy.

“The way the thing is dated, it is a July 1 renewal,” Mitchell said. “If the board would like (more) notification, we will commit to you right here (Tuesday) to get to you March 1 to give you that 120 days notice.”

Nassar and District 7 School Board member Richard Reulet Jr. were not satisfied with just setting the 120-notice this week, indicating it was something agreed to long ago and not followed through on by school district staff.

“I don’t know if there was a mess up anywhere and why we were not notified, and I would like to get an answer on that,” Nassar said. “Why weren’t we notified? It’s not in the minutes? Why, wasn’t it in the minutes?

“We’re just trying to get our legal stuff straight, because there has been a lot of questions surrounding it. We need to get it straight to find out what was said and what was not said and what was approved.”

Reulet said it was his motion that required Board notification prior to the most recent Aramark contract renew.

“That was in the minutes of the meeting in the motion for 120 days prior to renewing,” Reulet said. “We were supposed to be notified of it by (Mitchell), Aramark, Dr. Luce or somebody. Someone had to notify us. It was in the meeting. Everything was done.

“That contract is not valid now, because we did not authorize the renewal and because we were not notified according to our motion. As far as I’m concerned, if you don’t notify (the Board), the contract can’t renew.”

School district personnel pledged to School Board members the 120-day notification would take place and agreed to review previous meeting minutes in an effort to examine what was already approved.

However, no official School Board action was taken this week on the district’s custodial operations.