College campus maintenance crews face possible outsourcing - WSMV News 4

College campus maintenance crews face possible outsourcing

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After a devastating tornado seven years ago, classes at Volunteer State Community College were back up and running in just four days.

Now that tuition is free for some Tennesseans, the student population is climbing.

The 100-acre campus in Gallatin is a lot to take care of, but is Vol State keeping its 39-member maintenance staff busy enough?

“I certainly would invite you or anyone else to come and look around the campus and see whether we could maintain these facilities if employees are not working,” said Beth Cooksey, vice president of business and finance at Vol State.

The cost of maintaining so many maintenance crews has become a big issues in Tennessee. Gov. Bill Haslam’s solution is outsourcing.

Two years ago, the Haslam administration turned over maintenance work on 10 percent of the state’s properties to a private company.

“And what we found over two years are, these are not estimates, these are real results, was a savings of about $13 million,” said Michelle Martin with the state of Tennessee. “A lot of that savings has really begged the question, are there more opportunities to save money because of what we’ve seen?”

Those opportunities may exist at state colleges and universities.

“Many institutions, if not all, outsource food services already,” Martin said. “We’re looking at three main categories: custodial, grounds keeping, and repair and maintenance,” … said.

For the last year, finance experts have been looking at every single Tennessee campus and cost. When the Channel 4 I-Team received a tip, we decided to look at an entire year’s worth of work orders at Vol State, including data kept by a computer program called SchoolDude.

The director aimed to have his maintenance staff of 39 people complete at least three tasks a day. Records show it’s not even close.

“On June 30, only seven people entered work that day. One was for a half an hour the entire day. And on May 1, only four people entered work. It looks at least to the layperson that not a lot is getting done, or just a few people are working and some others aren’t doing much of anything,” said Channel 4’s Demetria Kalodimos.

“SchoolDude only captures a portion of some maintenance staff’s time,” Cooksey said.

“It should not be interpreted as a time card?” Kalodimos asked?

“It is not our timekeeping system,” Cooksey said.

But a former employee insists it is a fair reflection of work time. He said many on the maintenance staff didn’t put in anywhere close to a seven-and-a-half-hour work day, but they were still paid for it.

“It’s an honor system, basically? No one’s punching a clock,” Kalodimos said.

“We don’t have clocks, but it’s up to the supervisor to ascertain that their employees are working the appropriate time shift every day,” Cooksey said.

In an email to Cooksey in July, one supervisor wrote, “We have employees who do not want to work, will not work and will not follow directions.”

Cooksey concluded it was a record-keeping problem.

“What I asked them to do for a two-week period was write down their work on paper and we’ll compare it to computer just to make sure nothing has fallen through the cracks. So we did that and the results improved dramatically in that period of time,” she said.

But it’s the electronic data the state is studying, and it may not play well at decision time.

The state said every campus can choose its path, and if the choice is outsourcing, 100 percent of their existing staff will be retained.

“Even employees who don’t look productive on paper?” Kalodimos asked.

“The state has committed 100 percent protection, provided they submit to drug testing, etc.,” Martin said.

At Vol State, despite whatever data discrepancies, Cooksey is inclined to agree with the phrase: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

“If it turns out that we’re only emptying trash cans one or two times a week instead of once a day, that may not be worth it to us,” she said.

By the end of this month, the state expects to have a full report on maintenance spending for all college and university buildings.

Next will come a request for private companies to bid the work.

The state says it will ultimately be up to each institution whether to keep things as they are or outsource. But they stress any money saved could keep the cost of tuition down.

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