SCARBOROUGH — Stalled contract negotiations between the School Department and the union representing custodians and food service workers are headed to state mediation next month.
Crystal Goodrich, president of the Scarborough Education Association, said the union sought mediation through the Maine Labor Relations Board. She said veteran mediator John Alfano has been assigned to hear contract proposals from the union and the School Department Negotiations Committee, led by School Board member Jackie Perry.
The contract for more than two dozen custodians and about 20 food service workers expired last June 30. Goodrich said not all the custodians are full-time employees, and food service staffers work only during the school year.
Goodrich said the impasse stems from a counter-proposal received earlier this month from the School Department, reflecting elements of bids from three companies that expressed interest in doing outsourced custodial work for the department.
While declining to comment on the ongoing negotiations, School Superintendent George Entwistle III said the department is trying to reduce custodial expenses.
The department and School Board last year began looking at cost-cutting methods used in other districts, Entwistle said, and determined there is a possibility of saving $200,000 to $300,000 annually on custodial services.
Entwistle emphasized there has been no effort to outsource food service operations, adding he would like to increase that spending because of the value to the community and students.
Goodrich said the union is willing to work with the department to find savings, but said the last counter-proposal was too counter-productive.
“One of the things we said to the School Board is they are putting the issues of the budget on the backs of these employees,” Goodrich said. “Our employees have said, ‘I cannot work for that low of a wage and I cannot work without benefits.’”
Custodians and food service workers continue to work under the terms of a one-year agreement that expired last June, with the School Department paying 80 percent of health insurance and 90 percent of dental insurance premiums.
Under the expired contract, a first-year food service worker can begin at $10.45 per hour, a cook or baker at $12.15 and food manager at $13.05. Entry-level custodian pay is $13.55 per hour and tops out at $16.55 for workers with at least 25 years of experience.
Entwistle said his proposed fiscal year 2014 budget does not have any placeholder figures that assume outsourcing will occur.
“The budget was not built with any anticipatory savings,” he said.
Mediation is expected to be a protracted process. Goodrich said it could be a year before any resolution is found, and Entwistle said the School Department cannot move unilaterally to accept outsourced bids.
“Just because the contract has expired, does not mean we are free to do as we wish,” he said.