Iowa City school board votes to bring grounds care in-house

BY NICK HASSETT | APRIL 17, 2013 5:00 AM

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With spring arriving, the Iowa City School Board voted unanimously to bring school groundskeeping in-house.

The district’s contract with its most recent grounds-care provider, Quality Care, expired at the end of 2012, leaving the district with several options on how to proceed.

Though the item was postponed the last time it came before the board, the members voted 7-0 to begin the process of bringing grounds care in-house.

“The grass is growing now, and we feel there’s an urgency to get working on this,” said David Dude, the School District’s chief operating officer.

The estimated cost savings for the measure were $14,067 in fiscal 2014, $14,982 in fiscal 2015, $15,924 in fiscal 2016, with continued savings across the five-year estimate.

The district hopes to fully transition to all grounds care being handled in-house by the start of the 2014 grounds-care season.

“It’s too much to do immediately,” Dude said. “We’ll get quotes from vendors for athletics fields, specialized equipment and training, and make sure our people get up to speed.”

Board member Sarah Swisher expressed several reasons she supported the change.

“The passing of the revenue-purpose statement to expand [the physical plant and equipment levy] in a different direction made really great sense to me,” she said. “Then the idea that we were bringing some workers into the district bargaining unit, with district wages and benefits … it’s a benefit to the greater community.”

Though board member Tuyet Dorau had some concerns about the costs during the transition period between the current outsourced work and the new in-house plan, she ultimately voted in favor of the measure.

However, Dude didn’t think the costs would be a concern.

“The costs were fairly similar between the two; the difference is what funds we can use to pay for them,” he said. “Time will tell; we could be wrong.”

The district hopes to use physical plant and equipment levy funds to help pay for the groundskeeping. Voters approved $6.7 million for the tax fund in fiscal 2013, an increase of $274,541 from the previous year, according to city documents.

Several community members expressed support for the move.

“This is exciting; this is a big change,” community member Julie Van Dyke said. “Vendors have seen that [the School District] is no longer the golden goose. I expect prices will come down, and we’ll get better deals and better service than we’ve ever seen.”

Van Dyke also thought the move in-house would bring greater benefits and wages to community members and hoped the district would continue to evaluate the changes.

“I see just win, win, win on this,” she said. “I look forward to learning how [Dude] looks at this in a year from a hindsight perspective.”

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