Public Comments Blast Haslam Public College Outsourcing Proposal
The Tennessean, Aug. 15, 2016
By: Adam Tamburin
A union representing thousands of college workers in Tennessee on Monday released hundreds of comments slamming the governor's proposal to outsource facilities management on public college campuses.
The comments, which were collected by the state during a public comment period and sent to reporters by United Campus Workers, reiterated concerns that have been voiced by the union, lawmakers and college leaders for months. Of about 400 comments, almost all of them were critical of Gov. Bill Haslam's proposed plan, with many commenters suggesting the plan would lead to lost jobs or slashed pay for current employees and a lower quality service on campuses.
"The work is already being done well by Tennessee's hardworking public servants – whose jobs are on the line with Haslam's proposal," said one commenter who identified herself as Donna Smith. "We know how to do the job best and most efficiently, and we're the ones most committed to the needs of our state."
The state uses Chicago-based JLL to manage roughly 10 percent of its facilities. An internal report released in March suggested privatizing the management of residence halls, student centers and other properties across the state could save $36 million annually.
Haslam has repeatedly said that the savings will be made without layoffs or cuts to pay or benefits. On Monday, Michelle R. Martin, spokesperson for the state office charged with reviewing the outsourcing proposal, said her office would "continue to state and restate" that any college outsourcing deal would include provisions to protect jobs.
During a phone conference Monday organized by United College Workers, state Sen. Lee Harris and Rep. John Ray Clemmons ripped Haslam's plan and called for more rigorous legislative oversight of similar state contracts.
Clemmons, D-Nashville, repeatedly referred to the outsourcing plan as a "scheme" that was plotted out behind closed doors to benefit Haslam's "friends" and political allies.
"Gov. Haslam and his administration is willing to sell anything that isn't nailed down in state government," Clemmons said. "I question his priorities, his motives."
Harris, D-Memphis, cited previous efforts to hire private companies for state work as evidence that the process needed more oversight. In particular, he mentioned the state's $108 million contract with a company to administer online school testing, which was marred by problems that hampered this year's roll-out of the new TNReady test.
Haslam's proposal to outsource facilities management at colleges has been dogged by criticism since it became public in 2015. College leaders have questioned the state's savings projections, saying that current in-house facilities management is efficient.
In February, on the heels of that push-back, the state agreed to hire a third party to evaluate potential savings that could be made through outsourcing. Martin said that review is being done by Nashville-based Kraft CPA, adding that a final report should be made public in November.
While the third-party review is underway, the state has moved forward in its efforts to evaluate outsourcing partners. Colleges will get the opportunity to opt in or out of the outsourcing plan once those potential partners have made their pitches in February 2017, Martin said.