VSB trustees outsource decision to outsource on carpet cleaning

Post by Mike Klassen in


When it comes to saving tens of thousands on carpet cleaning, VSB trustees can't decide

In Wednesday's Question Period at the BC Legislature, members of the Opposition piled on the Education Minister once again, urging her to get out of a "message box". Not sure why it's okay to use a message box to accuse someone of being in a message box, but I guess that's politics. If there has been one "message" that Minister MacDiarmid has repeated a whole bunch is that it's time to find innovative ways to save costs.

Those ways might be shared services or common payroll systems, says MacDiarmid. When it comes to carpet cleaning, the decision on how to save costs was made years ago. In fact, the NDP were still in government in Victoria when it was decided to outsource carpet cleaning services in Vancouver, rather than have them done by inside workers from the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), Local No. 963.

It apparently was time for the School Board trustees to renew their commitment to contracting out carpet cleaning, which over the years has saved precious education dollars. "Carpet Cleaning Review 2009" was set out upon by trustees on Committee II. So, you're thinking to yourself just look at the costs, and – boom, done – you stick with contracted out services, right? Well, when it comes to the Vision/COPE trustees, who effectively owe their electoral success to donations from labour, it's not so easy.

What ended up happening were hours upon hours of discussions, several staff reports and months of decision-making. Staff reported that to go back to in-house carpet cleaning would requiring hiring four FTEs with full benefits ($278,000), plus purchasing a vehicle and equipment for $400,000. To continue to contract out keeps the cost down below $220K.

VSB staff laid it all out in a comprehensive report. But that wasn't good enough. Vision/COPE trustees stated they're "ideologically opposed to contracting out" and decided to hire a third party consultant to decide if the staff report was accurate. The amount paid for that consultant's report to prove that the staff report was correct cost you and I an additional $2100.

When it comes to leadership, sometimes you have to disappoint the people that paid for your campaign. Once again, that's politics. But when it comes to Vision/COPE, the "L" word apparently does not apply. Which is exactly why parents who are panicking over the VSB's budget challenges might want to cool their jets.

In one way it's not surprising that it took forever for a committee to decide whether to continue contracting out. Politicians sitting in committees tend to love the sound of their own voices, and don't mind letting things drag on a bit. But what is most egregious about the Vision/COPE trustees' position is that they so openly cast doubts upon the professional public servants giving them advice.

Staff laid out the options clearly:

  • Contract out = $190,000 to $220,000 per year
  • In-House = $400.000 in one-time capital cost for single purpose trucks used possibly 4 months of the year (carpet-cleaning is scheduled during summer when schools closed and service can completed most effectively and efficiently) as well as on-going cost of between $278,000 to $292,000 per year to IUOE staff.

The staff report to committee was comprehensive, detailed and included all but the $292,000 figure. The difference is in the estimated operating costs per vehicle.

Essentially staff – who were accused of being in a “conflict of interest position” by the trustees – had been generous to IUOE in their estimate of operating costs on vehicles if service was done in-house. What Vision/COPE trustees on Committee II were effectively saying is that staff cannot be trusted. In other words, a total slap in the face to them, and to taxpayers who are wondering why this board cannot make the numbers work.

Guess what the $2100 consultant's report said – staff were correct.

Many parents like myself in the Vancouver school system have heard the loud and repeated calls for more money by Vision/COPE VSB trustees. Some appreciate the tactics of Vision and COPE trustees, which is to blame the Province for Vancouver's budget troubles. Others are more suspect, and wonder if the activist approach is instead resulting in more parents choosing independent schools.

As I've said before, I think that Vision's Patti Bacchus is the spokesmodel for promoting private schooling in Vancouver. While she and her colleagues scream about dollars, none of them are proposing more efficient ways to deliver school services. Vancouver has had enrollment drop by over 3200 kids in the past 10 years, but the School Board's budget has gone up approximately $85 million in that time. And dozens of classrooms across the city lay empty.

In my regular discussions with parents, teachers and administrators, it's clear to me that the actions of the political activists are hurting our school system, breeding a culture of mistrust, and undermining faith in our schools. Our trustees show to our kids that yelling at your boss and calling for their resignation is the way to get what you want in the world.

When you have no leadership in your ranks to make wise decisions, yelling at your boss might be the best you can do. I guess that's politics for you.

- post by Mike


BC's education system is infested with public sector union agendas and their political BS. Kids and parents are being used as pawns and its shaneful.

The only real solution is to eliminate elected school boards, which are stacked with CUPE and BCTF proxies, and move to a system of Education Authorities with appointed boards made up of qualified, thoughful people.

The BCTF and CUPE are a cancer that's killing our education system. It's time to take some radical action and remove the tumour that's killing us.

It's beyond me why we've even got such an archaic hodge podge system of local school boards in place anyway.

Thank you for writting such a well researched article. It a very good example of the decision making process that exist at the VSB. In my over 15 years as a parent volunteer on both PAC and DPAC sitting at the tables where the arguments are made when such report are tabled this example only confirms that is time to take a very serious look at the governance models, the works that the committes do in particular the VSB Advocacy Committee.
I look forward to reading more the report from the auditor.

Keep digging deeper...they talk about for the betterment of the students...but the waste at the Admin Building would cover keeping programs running and classrooms with lots of student support, helping students thrive. All those protests are of a personal agenda....people who want a career in politics. It is never about saving our system, even those so called Parent Groups I bet you, that you will see one of them running for office just like Carole James did. When Carole James was Chairperson of the VSB she cut so many services and jobs and of course blamed the government it was all a personal agenda to get to where she is now. Nothing has changed they just keep filling her shoes. Programs which help students are blatantly closed and made as pawns..no on really cares about the students. Trim that fat from Admin....keep looking you will see the waste and that goes on in that Building and its not just carpets!

How do you expect unions to have enough money to buy elections if the people they get elected don't pad the staff with new, dues paying, union members?

Sheesh . . . give a union a break buddy . . we have friends too and they all need jobs that will pay our union management's big salaries and generous pensions.

Additional costs to the Vancouver taxpayer are the multiple trades and grounds crews for the City, Parks and Schools. The VSB may be a separate organization from the City and Parks but it is the same taxpayer funding multiple administrative, supplies and organizational costs.

So City Caucus considers contracting out to be an obvious way for the VSB, or any other public body, to save money. But maybe employing cheap non-union labour isn't such a great idea. Paying workers low wages and giving them little nothing in the way of benefits is not my idea of a just or healthy society.

$278,000 to hire 4 guys to clean carpets? In half empty schools with fewer and fewer kids? A just society does not pay a guy with a a grade 8 education $70k a year to clean carpets just because he has a union card. Just societies pay the guy who shows up on time and does his job. A just society does not pander to the guy who takes off every possible sick day and 'professional day' and files grievances every time he is written up for slacking off or doing a piss poor job just because he is a 'brother' in some union. Sorry bud - but this is MY money you are talking about - and 'justice' means I determine how my money is spent.

Unions - like fur coats and dinosaurs - were cool once but that was a long long time ago. What we are witnessing at the VSB is the sad but laughable flopping about and gnashing of teeth from the last of a species faced with it's own self inflicted demise - the bloated, lazy, out of touch with reality teacher's union facing the end of the money grows on trees era. Bye bye now -- it's time to go enjoy your rich pensions that I still have to work to pay for.

Why do you think we are coming to an "end of the money grows on trees era." In a democracy once you reach the point where 51% of the population can decide what services are going to be provided at what cost and have the other 49% pay for it you are done like dinner. We may not be there yet but that's the direction we are heading. Take a look at Greece if you want to see the future.

Years ago, when the Vancouver Public Library main branch opened, along with the Federal building; city council called for bids and the union was invited to also bid; in order to get the best deal. The bid was written so that the lowest bid did not have to be awarded. But the union knew they wouldn't be the lowest, so they really sharpened their pencils and ended up being the lowest bid.

Too bad people don't remember; and the school board and others could do the same thing to cut costs.

@Nancy. You make a good point. This is not about organized labour or private operator. It's about efficiency and good value for taxpayer dollars. Minimum calls, overhead like trucks and equipment, bumping and other factors really put unions at a disadvantage. But as you say, if everyone sharpens their pencils a case can be made for more than just private operators.

The Thought of The Day

“Mice will be mice!”

It never ceases to amaze me, how mice are always turning against other mice, while the fat cats are having them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Don’t judge the people at the bottom of the pay scale guys!.
You are paying a lying incompetent to manage the City, $ 40,000 more than for four people; add to that racket, The Deputy, The General, The Clairvoyant, The Realtorissimo, The Planner, The Socialist, The Developer, The Power Ranger... Look around you, check out your City and tell me, do you see your money’s worth? I think not!

Those Siamese, Abyssinians or Peterbalds are licking themselves into a stupor with green coloured tongues from too many $100 Franklin play bills. Say it ain’t so Joe...


Of Mice and Men...John Steinbeck's rhetorical inquiry. Which one are you, Omoishiroi? George Milton or Lennie Small?

We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

If you read the attached VSB report, it shows clearly that wages for 4 full time carpet cleaners are $200 K that also includes benefits, pensions.
If you calculate, it comes down to around 20 dollars and hour.
You probably still won't like it as you are one of the Campbell's friend and you want all service workers to work for $8 or $6 an hours.

Check out BCWineLover.com!

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