Although not everyone was ready to hand out an A grade to the new outsourced custodians serving the WW-P School district, the school board nevertheless authorized a one-year contract extension with Aramark, the firm that provides the custodians. At the January 24 meeting, the board voted to approve a one-year contract extension with Aramark for $4.8 million — reflecting a 2 percent increase.
But whether or not Aramark deserved the raise became a hot topic for public comment. “Before Aramark, when the district had its own custodial staff, the building was always spotless. Now we have to tell them, and they do clean as asked, but you shouldn’t have to remind them of basic things,” said Karen Sorenson of Princeton Drive in Plainsboro
Sorenson has seen the custodians in action as a parent and as a school employee. Her three children have attended WW-P schools, with her oldest, a daughter, now studying at Rutgers while her twin sons are in their freshmen year at High School South.
She also works as an instructional assistant for special education, fourth and fifth grades, at Millstone River School. “The room I work in is covered in filth,” she said. At the school board meeting Sorenson said that sometimes she has to leave signs for Aramark staff to replace soap, toilet paper, paper towels, and other supplies.
Sorenson spoke about an incident at Millstone River where she believes an Aramark cafeteria worker “may not have understood what they were doing” which resulted in an injury. She said the worker scrubbed the floor of the freezer room without putting up a wet floor sign. A cook later walked into the freezer and fell down, and Sorenson said the cook needed to be taken to the hospital.
Sorenson also mentioned a continuing occurrence of a special education student who “coughs all day long,” leading her to believe that their environmental situation needs to be examined. She also said that at no point had she seen any of the board members coming into Millstone River School and observing the cleanliness (or lack thereof).
Her point was challenged, however, by board member Todd Hochman and others who told her not only were they not permitted to enter a school building during school hours, but they have day jobs to attend to and it was unlikely that, as with most parents, they would be in a school during the day.
Before Sorenson’s comments two members of the board were not eager to endorse the contract extension. Board member Ellen Walsh pointed that the contract does not expire until June 30, and she questioned board member Tony Fleres, chairman of the finance committee, as to why the entire board was not given more details on Aramark’s performance.
“We were only given a one-page summary with a comparison of a period last year and a period this year. I am not comfortable and I think we should have a chance to study this and ask more questions,” Walsh said.
Walsh made a motion to pull the resolution from the agenda, which was seconded by Todd Hochman, but their request was denied by a vote of 6-2. The contract extension was approved, 7-0-1, with Walsh abstaining.
Fleres said that when the contract went out for bid two years ago Aramark was the lowest bidder by far. The 2 percent increase was negotiated by the board’s finance committee, and Fleres said the 2 percent increase was justified.
“As far as quality of their work, Jimmy Stives and Howard Bodine (previously the co-directors of Buildings and Grounds) did a very detailed inspection before Aramark arrived and updated it over the two years. I believe their service is satisfactory as I have not heard any complaints,” Fleres said.
Board Secretary Larry Shanok insisted that the board value the evaluation made by Edvocate School Support Solutions. “As hard-nosed as Bill Gerichter (president of Edvocate) is about it, his professional assessment is that Aramark has improved a great deal and is doing a good job, which is why we were very interested in locking this up,” he said.
The district’s original contract with Aramark on July 1, 2010, allows for three one-year extensions.