The Broward school district has officially hired a private company to handle its construction-related projects, eight months after laying off more than half of its own workers.
School Board members contracted URS Corporation on Wednesday for $1.75 million. The move is part of the district's push to restructure and clean up the troubled facilities department.
"This district has to move forward," said School Board Chairwoman Patricia Good. "Unfortunately the public will only understand if we move forward with a mechanism like this."
But the Broward Teachers Union, that represents the laid off employees, decried the decision, claiming the district was simply replacing workers at a much higher cost.
"The URS people are doing the exact same work of the laid off people," said Steven Feldman, a BTU official.
He said the 14 program managers that were laid off were being paid an average $90,000 salary with benefits. Under the privitazation deal, the cost of hiring program managers from URS would be more than twice that amount.
"You have to follow the contract and it says you cannot erode the bargaining unit and that’s exact what’s being done here," said Feldman.
Both sides are currently in arbitration over the issue.
Still, Superintendent Robert Runcie defended the outsourcing deal and said that in light of tighter budgets, it was "even more important we execute work in a way that is highly efficient and effective."
School Board member Nora Rupert was the only dissenting vote.
"I’m not saying we don’t need to change," she said. "I’m just not sure this is the change we need."
The School Board on Wednesday also agreed to hire McGladrey to monitor and audit the program managers.
Last week, the district proposed hiring an outside company to provide an independent and comprehensive needs assessment of the district's facilities. The $1.2 million contract would provide a long-term facilities plan that would help the district objectively prioritize repairs and prevent redundant projects from moving forward.
That vote was postponed to February.
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