COEUR d'ALENE - The Coeur d'Alene school board's recent decision to contract with Tesh, Inc. to provide evening janitorial services at Coeur d'Alene High School is expected to save the school district $20,000 per year while providing employment opportunities for Kootenai County residents with disabilities.
At their Aug. 6 meeting, trustees voted unanimously to approve a 10-month contract with Tesh - a Kootenai County nonprofit that provides child development, independent living and employment services for people with disabilities.
"It offers us an opportunity to manage our costs downward and an opportunity for Tesh to have a very viable customer," said Wendell Wardell, the district's chief operations officer.
At the same time, it's a "community connection," Wardell said, because many Tesh workers have come through the district's special education programs.
"We just see this as an enhancement of that relationship," he said.
Wardell said that if things go well at CHS, and he expects they will, that he is eager to expand Tesh's services into other district school buildings.
The CHS contract calls for Tesh to provide janitorial services Monday through Friday from 2:30 p.m. to midnight in classrooms, the media center and all small rest rooms.
Tesh has been providing commercial cleaning services to area business for 30 years, but this is the first time they have gone into the schools, said Tesh CEO Russ Doumas.
"We're very excited about this," Doumas said.
Some of Tesh's current customers include Kootenai County Solid Waste Department, the Idaho Transportation Department, Blue 541 and Idaho Fish and Game.
In a recent letter to The Press, Jon Pequignot, of Coeur d'Alene praised Tesh's work at Farragut State Park: "As a disabled veteran, I have had the opportunity to stay at many military, government and commercial campgrounds. I have never seen cleaner facilities than what the Tesh crew maintain at Farragut."
Tesh will be paid a contracted rate of $8,648 per month from mid-August through mid-June.
The contract includes a clause that allows either party to terminate it at any time with 30-day notice.
During the trustees' meeting, Wardell said board chair Tom Hamilton tasked him with looking outside the school system for savings solutions for support services.
"What we directed specifically was to look at non-classroom types of activities that the district takes on that we may be able to outsource at a cost savings," Hamilton said.
Other services, including transportation and grounds keeping, are being similarly scrutinized, he said.
"Overall, it's a win for the community," Hamilton told The Press. "It's supporting a local nonprofit, and saving tax dollars."
Not everyone is excited about the Tesh contract.
Rick Jones, a counselor at Coeur d'Alene High School and vice president of the Idaho Education Association, the state teachers union, spoke at the board meeting. He told trustees he had concerns about the cost of the contract, and asked them to delay making a decision on it.
"I'm all for providing opportunities for special needs individuals, which is my understanding who would be fulfilling these services. I could probably put names to many of those faces, and I certainly support that, but when looking at it strictly from a financial perspective, it's something I think needs to be looked at a little bit closer," Jones said.
He also asked how many fewer custodians will be at CHS as a result of the Tesh contracted services.
The district had five custodians at CHS, and now it will have two daytime custodians and no night custodians. The district administration's decision to explore a contract with Tesh was prompted by the resignation of three custodians.
During the board meeting, Wardell said the process had been studied over the course of a year.
"We would not sign a contract with Tesh if we hadn't investigated everything that you're concerned about," Wardell said, in response to Jones' testimony.
Superintendent Hazel Bauman said that reorganizing the custodial staff has been through attrition, that no employee lost a job to accommodate the Tesh contract.
She said the district is forced to shrink its staff in all areas, and that it has already done so with teachers, administrators and counselors, and "this parallel in the custodial world" is no different.
"It will save us money. It will provide gainful employment for a group that finds it very difficult to find employment, and we will try it out," Bauman said.
If the schools are not cleaned to district standards, district leadership will consider terminating the contract after 90 days.
The contract calls for Tesh workers to go through background checks and wear Tesh-identifiable uniforms. Tesh will maintain its own worker's compensation, unemployment, vehicle and general liability coverages, which is likely to result in additional "non-direct" savings to the district, Wardell said.
"I fully expect, after 90 days, I'll be able to make a decision how many more (schools) I can add because these people are eager to work," Wardell said.