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Tommie Barfield Elementary School

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101 Kirkwood St.

Tommie Barfield Elementary School
101 Kirkwood St.
Marco Island FL 34145
Telephone: 239-377-8500
FAX: 239-377-8501
Principal: Jory Westberry
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Udut, Kenneth
from Golden Gate Estates, Naples, FL
Associate, 3508 posts
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on Dec. 29 2008

NAPLES — Editor’s note: Today, the Daily News and continue an end-of-year series looking at people and issues that were in the news during the past year, but not recently.

Tommie Barfield Elementary School is so clean, you can eat off the floor.

At least, that’s what was implied last week when the Marco Island school was named the cleanest school by GCA Services Group, the company that took over custodial services for the district.

“What an honor,” said Principal Jory Westberry. “Especially being the first school to receive this award. Three of our crew were here before GCA took over and they are hard workers. We had two new people come in and they work hard, too.”

The Collier County School Board voted 3-1 in September to outsource custodial services to Knoxville, Tenn.-based GCA Services Group. Current Board Vice Chairwoman Kathleen Curatolo voted against the outsourcing. The fifth board member, Richard Calabrese, is recovering from a heart attack and was not at the meeting.

The district transitioned the custodians employed with the district out Oct. 17. GCA Services Group took over cleaning responsibilities on Oct. 20.

The company promised district officials it would rehire any of the 250 custodians who wanted to work in Collier schools. Those who were rehired had to pass a Collier County School District background check.

GCA also received more than 700 applications from people who didn’t currently work in the district.

But custodians who wanted to work for GCA were going to have to take a pay cut and have to pay for their health benefits, which they received for free as Collier County School employees.

Westberry said school officials were worried about their employees, but said GCA has worked out.

“They stayed, they are happy,” she said. “GCA came and talked to us. They have been more than willing to talk to us.”

But some employees didn’t want to accept the GCA offer. After the vote, Lely High School custodian Leo Pozo filed a charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission office in Miami alleging that the district’s termination of its primarily Hispanic custodial workforce is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Title VII states that an employer cannot make employment decisions that disparately impact a protected group of people if there is a viable alternative.

“The elimination of 300 custodians has had an adverse impact on the Hispanic employees of the Collier County School District,” said Libby Navarrete, an attorney representing the custodians.

Pozo, the man who filed the charges, is one of the district’s Hispanic custodians and said the decision of the School Board to outsource those jobs is a violation of the act. Hispanics comprise about 85 percent of the district’s custodians.

Before the district’s vote to outsource, Teamsters Local 79, which represented the custodians, told the Collier County School Board it could save the district $21.17 million without having to fire anyone. Union officials said savings could be found if, among other things, the district changed its health care plan to the Teamsters health insurance plan, brought the self-insured health fund balance to the target surplus recommended by the district’s actuary, and used a portion of its fund balance reserve.

Thompson has said many of the claims made by opponents of outsourcing were incorrect. He said the district could not just accept the Teamsters plan, but would have to request bids from all insurance companies.

Looking for new insurance while keeping the custodians would have required the district to dip further into its reserves, which School Board Vice Chairwoman Pat Carroll said she did not want to do. The district had to make a decision on the custodians in order to balance its budget, which was due last month to the state.

The district faced a $26 million deficit as it went into the 2008-09 school year. Part of the deficit comes from $10 million the district was required to give back to the state as a result of the general fund shortfall at the state level.

The deficit has forced the district to make about $5 million in cuts at the central office, tap into its reserve funds and consider outsourcing.

The Teamsters said they doubted finding a monetary solution would take too long.

The vote brought to an end a process that began in October 2007, when GCA Services approached Superintendent Dennis Thompson about doing an estimate for custodial services. The company had a previous relationship with Thompson, who was superintendent in Rockford, Ill., when the Rockford School Board decided to hire GCA.

Thompson accepted the offer and told the Daily News in May that when he saw the savings, he knew that outsourcing was an option that had to be explored.

The district sent out requests for proposals, which were reviewed by a committee. The committee voted unanimously to recommend hiring GCA Services Group.
Tommie Barfield Elementary School 101 Kirkwood St.