As the DeKalb County Board of Education ponders whether or not to outsource its school custodial work to GCA Services Group, reports of sex and drug offenders having worked for GCA in other counties has given rise to some concerns.
The school board does not have the contract issue on Thursday night's agenda for the regular monthly meeting at 7:00 p.m. but a workshop is set for Thursday night at 6:00 p.m. to discuss GCA Services and other matters.
Fifth district school board member W.J. (Dub) Evins, III told WJLE he already had reservations about the local school system contracting with GCA but the revelations about some of their past employees deeply troubles him. " My initial concern was my perception that we were not properly thinking of our employees and rushing into an issue that needed time to evaluate. After enabling ourselves more time, there appears to be too many issues with GCA that have emerged and appear to be quite serious and troubling," said Evins.
Published reports available on the Internet reveal several incidents in recent months and years where custodians who worked for GCA Services at the time had run afoul with the law or had criminal records.
In January, a janitor who worked for GCA Services Group at a Williamson County elementary school was arrested for allegedly hiding in the ceiling and peeping on young girls in the bathroom. 48 year old Victor Alvarado was found at Scales Elementary School hiding in the crawlspace above the ceiling in the girl's restroom. Investigators reportedly also found misplaced ceiling tiles in other female restrooms throughout the building, including a faculty restroom. Alvarado was charged with observation without consent. He received a six-count indictment from the Williamson County grand jury in March.
After Alvarado's arrest, GCA released a statement to the Nashville media reading, "All proper background checks were conducted and documentation was in place. Upon learning of the incident at Scales Elementary, GCA Education Services immediately terminated Mr. Alvarado. GCA is fully supporting law enforcement and school officials to resolve this matter."
Four years ago, Danny J. Hawkins, 20 years old at the time, was indicted by a Putnam County Grand Jury after being accused of having sex with a 15-year-old girl but apparently not on school property. After being indicted, officials said he was taken into custody without incident at Northeast Elementary School in Cookeville, where he had been employed by GCA Services Group, the contractor who does janitorial work there.
In January 2011, a woman suspected of being in the country illegally and working as a janitor for GCA Services at a Maury County middle school was extradited to Texas after she was charged with being a fugitive from justice. According to a WKRN news report at the time, the woman was facing a probation violation in Texas stemming from a felony drug arrest.
A janitor at Cookeville High School was arrested in March 2009 for allegedly selling drugs to an undercover police officer but apparently not on school property. Putnam County authorities said Walter Savage sold crack cocaine to the undercover officer. Savage was employed by GCA Services, hired to clean the schools in the county.
In a phone interview with WJLE Monday, Craig Colquitt, Senior Sales Director for GCA said the company conducts thorough background checks on new employees and gives due process to any custodian accused of improper conduct. "Our first approach in hiring is to do a background check and fingerprinting before they are employed. Our company has a long list, that is actually more aggressive than the school system's, on who we will and won't hire. Anything can change after somebody is hired. People are people. But before they walk in the door employed for us we'll know if they are wanted or shouldn't be in the building period. If there is an offense (by an employee) they are immediately removed from the building and then we go through the process. It's pretty thorough. What we find won't be hearsay. It's not guilty until proven innocent but we go through the steps to not only protect their rights but also the rights of the public education system," Colquitt told WJLE.
Representatives of GCA Services Group have made a proposal to contract with the DeKalb County School system to provide system wide custodial services for $400,000 for the first year with annual renewal options for at least up to five years, a move that is intended to save the district money.
Evins told WJLE he has doubts about the cost savings to the school system in the long run by contracting with GCA. "The financial savings is something I have not been able to justify. If it costs us $400,000, it will also cost GCA the same, unless they cut wages or positions. That is simple math," he said.
During last month's regular meeting of the school board, Sixth District member Doug Stephens asked how GCA could save the school system money. "What you presented is very impressive but how can we either be so bad or you so good that you can save us $50,000 a year," he asked?
"Purchasing power. All equipment, training and consumables are provided by us and we're getting our equipment and consumables at a much lower rate than you can. All those costs to you, we'll absorb including insurance, benefits, and workman's comp," said Josh Helton, Senior Regional Manager. We keep our workman's comp costs down with proper training, equipment, education, and supplies they (custodians) need, " added Adam Miles, Sales Director.
Part of the savings on equipment is coming from the fact that we're buying the equipment full price but we're negotiating that. We're getting a better price than you do. You'll buy it at full cash price. We'll depreciate that over five years. If we don't maintain the contract for five years we're out. So it behooves us to keep it for five years because we've bought new equipment and depreciated it over that period of time. That's part of the savings. With 36,000 employees, we can negotiate on any kind of supply with our buying power," said Colquitt.
According to GCA officials, all current custodial staff working for the school system, recommended by the principals would be hired by GCA and be subject to the same background checks as new employees. However according to a WKRN news report in 2011 the Maury County School Board voted to outsource school cleaning to GCA in May of that year, a move which resulted in nearly 70 custodians, many of whom had worked for the school system for decades, losing their jobs with the district. When asked about that WKRN report, Colquitt suggested it was misleading. "The way they stated that, it tells me the reporter didn't understand that the employees were no longer employed by the district but became employees of GCA", Colquitt told WJLE.
During the July school board meeting, Director of Schools Mark Willoughby said he had contacted several school systems where GCA works and all had given him a good report. "I have not found anybody that had anything negative to say. The quality of work they do that I have heard about and looked at is extremely good," he said.
Director Willoughby told WJLE Monday that while the final decision to contract with GCA rests with the school board members, it was his decision to present this proposal to them. "After checking with three other school systems in this area and learning they (GCA) did a good service for them and also realizing we had a chance to save $60,000 which would help us with our always tight budget, I decided to bring this proposal to the board's attention," said Willoughby.
"As for the issue of past GCA employees, I can say that GCA does conduct background checks on people before hiring them. While I don't condone having criminal types around our children, I do believe GCA does everything it can to prevent that. But like any organization of GCA's size, there are bound to be a few bad apples. I do commend GCA for taking appropriate actions to deal with those issues when they arose. Further, I hope this would not be a concern here because GCA has agreed to hire all our existing staff recommended by principals at the same rate of pay," said Director Willoughby.
Meanwhile on another issue, questions have arisen as to why GCA equipment has already been in the school system when no contract with the company has yet been approved to provide services. " We were looking to replace two pieces of our own equipment that had broken down, a square scrubber and a squeegee machine. Instead of purchasing new equipment to replace them I asked GCA to let us borrow two pieces of their equipment pending approval of the proposed contract, thinking that should the board contract with GCA, we would not have to buy any new equipment and GCA would provide all the equipment themselves," Director Willoughby told WJLE.
According to its website, GCA Services Group, Inc. is a leading national provider of quality facility services, including janitorial/custodial services, contamination control for cleanroom manufacturing, facilities operations and maintenance, grounds management, in-sourced production staffing and labor management, diversified staffing, and more.
With over 36,000 employees in 48 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, GCA serves a variety of sectors, including K-12 schools, higher education, manufacturing, corporate office buildings, and others. GCA’s management team is recognized as one of the strongest and most experienced in the industry.