Maintainence contract's legality an issue

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

While maintaining the County's buildings in addition to the schools has not been a problem for the school system's maintenance department, the legality of the contract has been called into question, along with concerns about insurance.

The school board's and the County commission's maintenance committees are scheduled to meet Thursday evening to consider the future of the contract, but until they have an opinion from legal, the school board is unable to move forward.

"So far we've done real good," maintenance director Sheldon Davis told the maintenance committee at their meeting last Thursday. "Everyone is pleased, and thanking us for what we're doing."

Apart from a squabble between finance directors Freda Terry for the County and Janet Wiles for the schools over the billing of maintenance hours, there have been no major problems, and the County's work has been done without hurting the schools.

"If Janet's OK with it - if Sheldon thinks it's working - if it's saving the County money - why not continue on with it?" concluded committee chairman Randy Perryman.

"As long as it's not going to cost the school system one red cent," added board member Curt Denton.

However, when the full board asked their attorney, Sam Jackson of Lewis, King, Krieg & Waldrop P.C. to comment on the maintenance contract during the special called meeting Saturday, Jackson said that was the first time he had seen it, and he was not sure it was legal.

Board members were under the impression that former director Stan Curtis had legal approval for the maintenance contract, but Jackson said his law firm had no correspondence on the subject.

"It's a very unique situation," said Jackson, according to board member Craig Michael. The education practice group at Jackson's law firm represents 74 of Tennessee's 136 boards of education, but Jackson says he has never seen an agreement like this one.

Jackson also raised concerns about the school system's liability insurance policy, which currently covers school employees working in school buildings. If the policy has to cover school employees working in County-owned buildings as well, the insurers would doubtless want to increase the premium.

"The way this shakes out can affect a lot of people's plans," Michael said. "This is disturbing for a lot of reasons."

In his comments on both meetings, Michael also focused on personnel concerns.

"Has this (working in the County buildings) interfered with your work at the schools?" Perryman asked Davis at the committee meeting.

"No, we've kept up pretty good," Davis answered.

The contract allows for the hiring of two more school system maintenance personnel, in addition to the 10 already employed (not counting Davis and the secretary), whose pay would be reimbursed to the system by the County. So far, numerous applications have been accepted, and candidates interviewed, but no one has been hired.

"You're making it without hiring two - could you go on like that?" asked Denton.

"Not for long," replied Davis. "It would be hard in the summer."

Michael pointed out that the maintenance department - Davis and 10 men - has been successfully working on 11 buildings. Now, more than doubling the number of facilities (the County has 14), and getting the work done, in the short term, without extra people, indicates to Michael "we're over staffed." Even if two more men are hired, this only adds 18 percent more people to work on over twice as many buildings.

"It's so hard to get into efficiency in support areas," Michael said. "We're trying to maximize efficiency in every part of the school system, and clearly we have an opportunity here." His suggestion was to find a company to do a time study of the maintenance department and its employees.

The idea that two people are needed to work on the County's buildings perhaps comes from the days when the County ran its own maintenance department and had two employees.