On the table in Hillsborough: Outsourcing the school custodian

TAMPA - More than 1,500 workers earn their living cleaning up all manner of mess in the Hillsborough County Public Schools.

It’s not an extravagant living - the average salary is $24,000, which includes everyone from four-hour custodians to crew leaders.

But it all adds up to more than $38 million in pay alone, and the school district is wondering if it can save money by outsourcing.

“Subcontracting our custodial services may save millions of dollars,” deputy superintendent Chris Farkas wrote in a letter that went out to the workforce this week in English and Spanish.

It’s not clear how much the district can save, or if it will go through with the idea. “We are only in the beginning phases of researching this possibility,” Farkas wrote. Cleaning companies have been invited to bid.

Hillsborough already saved $2 million this year by paring down its custodial staff, which used to employ 1,730. Those changes followed an efficiency study in 2016 by the Gibson Consulting Group.

School Board members, at a recent retreat, discussed the possibility that they can save even more by privatizing.

“Other school districts have done this,” Farkas wrote in his letter. “And based on our research, more than 80 percent of the private companies’ employees have been custodians who came from the school district and kept working in very similar jobs.”

As the bids have not yet come in, it is too soon to say what the pay or benefits would look like.

“As always,” Farkas wrote, “current custodial staff members have the opportunity to explore other district positions at any time.”