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Cleaning deal okayed by schools

School Board members approved a three-year contract Tuesday with ServiceMaster Inc. that administrators say will lock in guaranteed savings and improve janitorial and maintenance services. The board voted 3-2 to okay the contract, which will take effect next week and pay ServiceMaster $82,000 a year to manage the district's custodial and maintenance program for less than the district's current budgeted cost.

The board chose ServiceMaster last month over two other management companies, despite protests by union officials that ServiceMaster's projected savings would not be as large as they first appeared.

Board members Diane Rowden and Susan Cooper cast the dissenting votes Tuesday and at the May meeting.

Board members Nancy Gordon, Leland McKeown and Chairman Paul Clemons voted to approve the contract.

Rowden, in a lengthy attack on the contract, said the document contained several mathematical errors and price discrepancies . But the biggest problem, she said, was that board members had been given only one working day to examine it.

Board members received the contract Friday, the day it was drawn up.

"This has been going on since January, and we get it on Friday night. Why can't we have another five days?" she said.

Rowden and Cooper also noted the contract called for what appeared to them to be an excessive number of certain items, such as 22 boxes of a dozen dustpans apiece for $899.58 and 22 boxes of "wet floor" signs, with five signs per box, for $1,058.86.

"Do we really need so many wet floor signs?" Cooper asked.

Some items, such as two Weedeaters at $350 each for a total of $1,400, also simply didn't add up.

Assistant Superintendent Jerry Runkle acknowledged some problems with calculations, but he said his staff was aware of them and was working to correct them.

School Board attorney Joseph Johnston also assured the board the contract was a better document than ones three other Florida counties signed previously with ServiceMaster.

"They (ServiceMaster) are bound by all of their proposals at the contract price that they agreed on, regardless of what all this gobbledygook says," Johnston said, referring to the contract.

"They cannot promiscuously go out here and get equipment and charge it back to the school. I don't think they intend to do that," he said.

ServiceMaster says it will improve custodial and janitorial services at the district's 16 schools, and do the work for some $300,000 less than the school district budgeted for this year. It says it can achieve those savings by not replacing some staff members who leave and by doing the work more efficiently than it is being done now.

The savings figure was disputed during the May meeting, though, by an official of the local union's affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

Howard Nelson, the AFT assistant director of research, pointed out that the district, as a result of attrition, already was spending about $200,000 less than it had budgeted for the year.

If ServiceMaster's savings are compared to the district's actual expenses, rather than the budgeted amount, those savings become much smaller, he said.

Administration officials have said improving quality, not saving money, was their priority.