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Mayor de Blasio Announces Long-Sought Reforms to School Custodial System, Ensuring More Efficient and Effective Service for Students and Faculty

April 27, 2016

New agreement is most significant improvement to system in 150 years, ensuring resources can be directed where needed; will pay for itself within a few years

NEW YORK––Mayor Bill de Blasio today announced major reforms to the public school custodial system. These long-sought changes will ensure that the Department of Education can direct resources where they’re most needed, so that students and faculty can get the efficient and effective service they deserve. These reforms will pay for themselves within a few years.

“Our custodial staff members work tirelessly to keep our schools clean and safe. But the antiquated system they work under has long been broken, meaning that our kids, teachers, administrators – and our taxpayers – are not getting the effective service they deserve. These reforms will address long-standing disparities and mismanagement and help ensure all schools are clean and well-maintained,” said Mayor de Blasio.

"Custodial staff are integral to every school community and their hard work directly benefits principals, teachers, students and families. As a former principal, I know the importance of partnering with committed individuals who understand the value of a safe and pleasant environment. I recognize the tremendous and meticulous effort put into our schools every day to ensure they are high quality facilities where students can thrive. This new structure will right the many wrongs that have plagued the system for decades, and with clearer oversight, our children will be better served," said Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

"The current system for school maintenance is unwieldy and inefficient and does not provide the best service possible for our students," said Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. "The reform measures announced by the Mayor will result in better maintained schools for our teachers and students and will ensure that all our school maintenance workers are paid the prevailing wage. This is a great accomplishment and I applaud the de Blasio Administration for their efforts."

The agreement reached between the City and the three relevant unions (International Union of Operating Engineers Local 891, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 94, and 32BJ SEIU) marks the most significant changes to the school custodial system in 150 years. The current, disjointed system means that Custodial Engineers each has their own budget, hire their own staff and purchase their own supplies, with each school run as an individual enterprise with little oversight or transparency.

Under the new reforms, which will begin this fall with the 2016-2017 school year, all schools will be managed by the DOE and staffed through a single not-for-profit affiliated with the Department. This will ensure the DOE has the ability to direct resources and undertake restoration work where most needed, while taking into account changing circumstances. Control and oversight of budgetary and staffing allocation decisions will rest in one place at the DOE, ensuring employees and supplies can be effectively moved to meet actual needs. These reforms will also virtually eliminate the root causes of past corruption incidents, creating a more efficient and transparent school cleaning and maintenance system, while also ensuring that all custodial workers in public schools make the prevailing wage.

Specifically, Local 891 Custodial Engineers will lead the custodial teams in all school buildings, eliminating the costs currently incurred for private, for-profit contractors that currently provide custodial services at roughly 10 percent of schools; the DOE will hire approximately 120 more Custodial Engineers to meet this need. This will also fully eliminate “Temporary Care,” in which Custodians covered unmanned buildings on rotating eight-week periods for extra pay. All assignments will be permanent, ensuring schools have a single point of contact for consistent and reliable coverage.

The other school cleaning employees (members of Local 32BJ and Local 94) will also be directly employed through the DOE-affiliated not-for-profit, rather than employed by the Custodial Engineers as has long been the case. By employing these cleaners, handypersons, firepersons and stationary engineers through the not-for-profit – and overseeing the entire operation centrally through the DOE Division of School Facilities – the DOE will be able to find operational efficiencies, including a reduction in overtime hours needed and better management of supplies.

“I am extremely pleased that this administration allowed us to negotiate the proposed changes to the custodial system. The new system should bring more stability for my members and to the overall system. Our children in the public schools will benefit from these changes. I am certain that I did my job and represented the interests of the members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 891. Mayor de Blasio has constantly demonstrated his desire to improve New York City’s school system. I’m confident he will continue to do all he can to improve conditions,” said Robert Troeller, Business Manager and President, Local 891.

"We thank Mayor de Blasio for his commitment to much needed reforms in the school custodial system. This restructuring will finally get the nearly 5,000 school cleaners and handy persons what we have been fighting for, for so long – equal pay for equal work. We will continue to work productively with the city to make sure that these jobs remain good jobs, that they maintain their benefits, and that all our members remain in the schools serving the students of New York City," said Hector Figueroa, President of Local 32BJ SEIU.

Kuba J. Brown, Business Manager and President Local 94, 94A, 94B said, "This has been a long and difficult negotiation. I want to thank Mayor de Blasio, Bob Linn and everyone at Office of Labor Relations and the Department of Education for their creativity and imagination in correcting a flawed system. Beyond the economic justice for our members this agreement will lead to more efficient and sustainable school buildings.”

After some initial transition costs, the City projects the reforms to be cost-neutral, paying for themselves – or better – by the end of the current financial plan. The anticipated cost for FY17 is $40 million, reflecting start-up costs related to centralized management, as well as the prevailing wages that will be provided to all employees. That annual cost will decline to $23 million in FY18, and then become cost-neutral – if not resulting in savings – in FY19 and beyond, while significantly improving the quality of school maintenance.

"This system has long lacked critical oversight and transparency and led to inequity across the City school buildings. This overhaul will ensure that resources are used more effectively to help principals in need of services and ultimately will best serve kids," said former Chancellor Harold O. Levy.

“Educators have long been concerned about not having reliable, consistent custodial staff as partners in their school buildings," said Queens Library President and former Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott. "These reforms will better service our schools and fix a broken system that has often led to corruption and cronyism. The education community of our teachers, students, and parents will all benefit under these reforms.”

Ailene Mitchell, Principal of MS 88 in Brooklyn, said, “I depend on my custodial staff to ensure my school is welcoming for students and families, and that all facilities enable high quality instruction and strong family engagement. This is welcome reform and will ensure that when I need assistance, it happens quickly and reliably with clear oversight that I can count on. Our custodial staff has been invaluable partners and repainted the different floors within the building to delineate the house themes and cultivate community – this is directly impacting my students. I’m grateful for this important change and my students and families will continue to reap the benefits.”

All of the employees currently employed by the custodians will be managed through the single not-for-profit entity affiliated with the DOE, NYC School Support Services, pursuant to Section 3-08 of DOE procurement policies. This procurement structure is similar to contracts the City has with other not-for-profit entities affiliated with the City such as the NYC Economic Development Corporation, the Trust for Governor’s Island and Animal Care Centers of NYC. The NYCSSS board will include Natalie Green Giles, Jose Davila and David Kramer – as well as representatives of the Chancellor and Budget Director, who will work in partnership with DOE staff to ensure both accountability and the structure needed to strengthen and support the provision of these critical custodial services.

"I am happy to have the opportunity to work collaboratively with my fellow board members and the union representatives to support this innovative, cooperative model for the oversight and management of critical custodial services in our public school buildings,” said NYCSSS Board Member Natalie Green Giles. “The creation of this not-for-profit will allow us to more effectively and consistently serve the needs of all who are impacted by these services – principals, administrative staff, teachers, children, parents, and the support services staff themselves. Our custodians are the guardians of the physical space in which our children learn, and the degree to which this new organization can support the highest standards of hiring, training, safety, and overall delivery of custodial services will result in tangible benefits to all those who work in, learn in, and visit our school buildings."

NYCSSS Board Member José Davila said, “As a proud public school parent, I am honored to be appointed to the NYC School Support Services board. I look forward to working with my fellow board members to ensure that all school maintenance workers are paid the prevailing wage. When our school facilities are well-maintained and our school workforce is uplifted, our children succeed.”

NYCSSS Board Member David Kramer said, "I still remember when I served as principal for the day at the George Gershwin Middle School in East New York 15 years ago that there were alarming structural problems with the relationship between the school staff and the custodians. I look forward to bringing energy and focus to helping oversee a better custodial system to benefit all the public schools."

“We enthusiastically support these efforts by the City to improve the efficiency of school building maintenance. Schools are an important capital asset for the city, and more effective operations and maintenance of facilities is critical to managing the city¹s capital needs,” said Carol Kellermann, President of the Citizens Budget Commission.

“The agreement is good for New York City’s educational community,” said Ernest Logan, President of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators. “Our school leaders welcome the ending of long-term temporary care and the contracting out of custodial care. It should ensure stability and accountability to the process of maintaining our school buildings.”

“I commend the City for working with organized labor to enact these necessary reforms for New York City’s school custodians,” said Vincent Alvarez, President of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “The reforms will create and preserve good jobs, while also helping to provide our schools with the best possible custodial service and coverage. This is a win for parents, students and hardworking New Yorkers.”

"Reform to New York City's school custodial system has been long overdue. Greater oversight has been needed to address inefficiencies and inequities in the maintenance of buildings that are schools as well as critical community assets. We have reason to celebrate our ability to hire more custodial engineers and ensure all workers earn a prevailing wage, while also lowering costs associated with cleaning that have been a drain on taxpayers as well as a barrier for local groups seeking to rent building space for youth and community development programs," said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

"I am glad the mayor and the unions have come together to eliminate wasteful spending and ensure that all schools have the resources they need to be kept clean and orderly," Council Member Daniel Dromm, Chair of the Committee on Education. "Ultimately, it is my hope that these changes will benefit public school custodians, as well as students, faculty and staff."

Council Member I. Daneek Miller, Chair of the Committee on Labor, said, "This agreement has demonstrated once again that collective bargaining works. After long negotiations this agreement has produced transparency, equity, and most of all efficiency. Congratulations to Local 891 on this ground breaking agreement which not only enhances the quality of life for your members, but also brings equity and opportunity to the members 32BJ and Local 94."

About Natalie Green Giles
Natalie Green Giles is an independent consultant and writer with specific interests in organizational development and performance improvement efforts in not-for-profit and public sector organizations. She has been a public school parent leader and advocate for the past 12 years, having served as President of the Community District 15 Presidents’ Council, as a member of the District 15 Leadership Team, and as a member of the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council. She currently serves as the President of the Bard High School Early College Manhattan PTA.

Prior to her independent consulting work, Giles worked with Arthur Andersen LLP, as Senior Manager in the Ethics & Responsible Business Practices consulting competency area, and as a senior consultant in the New York City Mayor’s Office of Operations internal management consulting unit (Giuliani administration). Her writing includes reports, articles, opinion pieces, as well as one nonfiction book, Songa’s Story: How a Shtetl Jew Found the American Dream (July 2003).

Giles is a graduate of Stuyvesant High School, and received a BA from Williams College, and an MBA from Yale University’s School of Management.

About José Davila
José Davila is Vice President for Policy and Government Relations for the Hispanic Federation. Since 2012 he has coordinated the Federation's policy, advocacy, government relations and civic engagement efforts nationally and in several states including New York, Connecticut and Florida.

Prior to joining the Hispanic Federation, Davila served as Director of Intergovernmental Affairs and Director of Community Organizing at the New York City Public Advocate's Office. He also spent over six years at the NY Immigration Coalition as Director of State Government Affairs as well as other roles. Davila has previously worked at the NY Public Interest Research Group and the Fiscal Policy Institute, as well as on several electoral campaigns including for Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and State Senator Gustavo Rivera.

With over two decades fighting for social justice, Davila has led advocacy campaigns on dozens of legislative, budget and administrative issues including immigrant rights, education, economic justice, the environment, health, civil rights, voting rights and many others. He has 18 years of government relations experience in several capitals including New York City, Albany, Washington and Hartford. Davila has co-authored countless policy reports, press releases, opinion pieces and advocacy letters, while also serving as a public speaker and facilitator at policy conferences, press conferences and community workshops.

Davila is a Bronx native of Puerto Rican descent. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry from Colgate University and a Master of Public Policy Degree from Rutgers University. He is a proud father of a twelve-year-old son.

About David Kramer
David Kramer is the President of the Hudson Companies, Inc., which he joined in 1995 and currently runs with fellow Principal William Fowler. Hudson has developed 5,600 residential apartments since 1986. In 2011, Hudson Companies, Inc. was named Private Developer of the Year by the New York State Housing Conference. In 2013, Hudson Companies, Inc. was selected by the New York City Pension Funds to manage an investment fund to rebuild areas affected by Superstorm Sandy.

Prior to joining Hudson Companies Inc., Kramer developed affordable housing as the Housing Director of the Venice Community Housing Corporation in Los Angeles, and a project manager for the Skid Row Housing Trust. In 1989, Kramer was one of the founders and the first Executive Director of People for Parks, a Los Angeles non-profit coalition of parks advocates.

Kramer has a Bachelor Degree from Yale University and graduated from the Coro Foundation's Public Affairs Program. He serves on the Alumni Council of the Collegiate School and the board of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and has served on the boards of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, the Coro Foundation and the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, where he also served as Chair. Kramer founded the quarterly Brooklyn Real Estate Roundtable to benefit the Brooklyn Historical Society. He lives in Brooklyn Heights with his wife, three children and poorly trained dog.

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