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Staff file photo / The Hamilton County Schools Central Offices is located at 3074 Hickory Valley Road. The school board voted on several contracts and policies at its March 2021 meeting.

The Hamilton County school board has selected a new custodial and grounds company, SSC Services of Knoxville.

The contract length is four years with three, one-year options for extensions, chief operations officer Justin Robertson told the board.

The board voted 5-4 to hire the company on Thursday. The contract was reduced from five years to four after some members expressed concern that the contract's length was longer than a board member's term.

On Monday, the board heard a presentation from SSC. Contracting with the company will cost an additional $680,000 per year, and board members expressed mixed opinions on the cleanliness of schools in their district and the additional costs of contracting with SSC on Monday and Thursday.

Board members Jenny Hill, Karitsa Jones, Tucker McClendon, Marco Perez and Tiffanie Robinson voted in favor of the contract; board members Steve Highlander, Joe Smith, Rhonda Thurman and Joe Wingate voted against the contract.

SSC, based in Knoxville, is working with local companies including Mean Green Janitorial Cleaning Service, a Chattanooga company which will oversee the MidTown and Missionary Ridge learning communities, or about 27% of the contract.

Kelvin Lloyd, CEO of Mean Green, addressed the board about his background and mistakes he made in the past in Thursday's meeting.

"I was born and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee," he told the board. "I graduated from Howard High School. I did 12 years in the U.S. Navy, I am a disabled veteran, I suffer from PTSD. I have made mistakes in my past, but my past is behind me. I have been in this business growing this business for the last 11-12 years. ...

"I've grown this business to 60 employees, I feed 60 families per day, seven days a week. I diligently get out there myself to make this happen. So, in this process, I'm not perfect, I come to say that I'm no different than no one else that made mistakes in their life. America is built on second chances, and I come for a second chance and I ask for a second chance, and I appreciate y'all giving me the opportunity."

Lloyd and several others were indicted on drug-related federal charges in 2006, and he pleaded guilty the next year to conspiracy to distribute marijuana and was sentenced to a year-and-a-half in prison. In 2009, Lloyd was released and began a three-year term of supervised release and was granted early release in 2011.

After hearing from Lloyd and before voting, board members discussed their thoughts on switching vendors. Robinson told the board she had received anonymous phone calls and texts in support of the existing vendor, ABM, that brought up Lloyd's past to try and sway her vote.

She told the Times Free Press she wouldn't have brought up the texts if Lloyd hadn't spoken to the board and that one reason she voted in favor of the contract with SSC was because of the company culture.

"I really do think that taking the approach of hiring someone like Mr. Lloyd to be a big part of that contract, I think that that's important, I think that it's a sign of economic mobility for someone like Mr. Lloyd and the employees that he has," Robinson said. "I think that it's the kind of direction that our school board needs to be taking with our contracts is, how do we pull in more locally-owned businesses and how do we really start helping change the root of these contracts and how they're given out."

She said that schools in her district, District Four, have not improved much under ABM.

"My schools in particular have not had great results from ABM, and as I've been watching these issues for four years while sitting on the board and even though I felt like ABM has made some improvement in some areas, I just didn't really see the improvement in my own schools," Robinson said.

Wingate also received anonymous text messages advocating for one side or the other, but said none of the messages were about Lloyd. He told the Times Free Press those kinds of messages are not uncommon but are discouraging when leading up to a vote on a large contract.

"It's just hard to put a lot of weight into those communications when folks aren't willing to identify who they are and stand up and be counted," Wingate said.

He voted against contracting with SSC and said he was not opposed to change, but wanted to see school employees in individual buildings be more proactive about holding custodians to a certain standard.

"I want to see the employees of the system in the building hold their custodial staffs more accountable," Wingate said. "And I think they will, and I think I've seen more of that here recently, just when it came down to it, I couldn't justify the extra money when I really wanted to see more accountability."

The school district had been contracted with custodial company ABM prior to voting on the new contract and met with the company in October after hundreds of complaints about the company's performance.

Contact Anika Chaturvedi at achaturvedi@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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