Starting Monday, July 24, the St. Croix Central School District will take over housekeeping duties from Marsden Services.
"It all started with staff shortage, when Marsden couldn't fill all of their positions..." said Superintendent Tim Widiker. "So school officials and the Marsden officials sat down and started brainstorming ways to attract and market the job to more people to the positions. After that, the jobs still weren't filling up, no matter what we did. We've been at least two staff short for almost the entire year and making do with what we had."
The decision was made at the Central Board of Education's June 19 meeting. Marsden, which operates out of St. Paul, had been working with the district on its cleaning and general setup duties at the three schools since the high school opened in 1999.
"Another benefit of having our own employees do the job is that we can have one person in charge of everyone and know that when we ask for something to be done, we can make sure that it will get done," Widiker said. "We can also work the hours a little more to have more overlap so that we can have good communication between the two shifts. We also feel like we would be able to attract and retain more employees because we can offer benefits."
According to Widiker, one of the contributing factors to the shortage — along with the county's high unemployment rate — was the addition of the new auditorium at the high school and the other spaces at the middle and elementary schools. The increase in the district's square footage meant that they needed to add more positions, which was part of the contract the district signed with Marsden last October.
"Because we were two staff short, things weren't getting done up to the level of satisfaction we would have liked. We could be better," Widiker said. "Greg Green, our director of buildings and grounds, and Jennifer Kleschold, our business manager, spent a lot of time looking at exactly what we need for staff. But the thing is that we just redid our contract with Marsden (in October) and we reorganized some of the positions and detailed what we needed and when we needed the staff in each building."
Before the two groups decided to go their separate ways, Widiker said the school and Marsden decided to try raising the hourly wage for the positions to $13 and then $15 an hour, but they still couldn't fill the positions. However, the two entities couldn't find a middle ground that wouldn't cost the district more than they would like to pay for cleaning services while also still allowing Marsden to make money off the contract.
"The end result of us hiring our own staff will give us a better result. We are hoping that we can hire back most of the staff that we were working with through Marsden," Widiker said. "We will also have to work out costs of buying our own equipment since not all of it that was being used before belonged to us."
The contract, as worked out before the two parties mutually agreed to terminate the contract, was a proposal of $506,000 annually with the staff being paid $15 an hour. In contrast, the district hiring their own employees — even when adding in benefits — would cost an estimated $448,000 yearly, according to Kleschold.
The 12 new housekeeper position will handle the cleaning duties, as well as setup for school events, throughout the district buildings, Widiker said. Positions vary from four to eight hours and different times of the day.
The district gave its 30-day notice to Marsden in the middle of June, with Marsden's last day being Friday, July 21.
Positions have been posted in area newspapers, as well as on the district's website and on the district signs at the different buildings.