November 23, 2017

LSSI Gets Its First Contract in Florida

By Andrew McIntyre

In a move that is predicted to save $1 million or more annually, one central Florida county will soon outsource management of its branch libraries to Library Systems & Services (LSSI), a private, for-profit company based in Germantown, MD.

The Osceola County Board of County Commissioners voted 3-2 on December 12 to allow LSSI to take over management of the six-branch Osceola Library System. The deal begins Tuesday, and it is LSSI’s first contract in Florida.

“If it’s done right, I think it’s the wave of the future for other cities and counties. I’m entrusted to spend other people’s money, and this is an item I have to purchase,” said Commissioner Frank Attkisson. “Doesn’t matter if I’m purchasing a pencil or a library operation.”

Under the terms of the five-year agreement, the county will pay LSSI just over $24 million; LSSI will collect $4.7 million the first year, and that amount will rise slightly over each of the following four years. The county will also spend from $580,000 to $670,000 annually on library costs not covered by the LSSI payments.

The LSSI contract is expected to save Osceola County, which is facing a $3 million deficit, $6 million over five years.

“We owe it to everybody to take a six-month look. Can it be run cheaper and better?” said Attkisson, who likes the fact that the county may terminate the agreement at any point by giving LSSI three month’s written notice. The county maintains all policy-making authority.

The Florida Library Association (FLA) opposed the Osceola deal, stating numerous reasons in a September 14 letter from Gloria Colvin, the FLA president. The letter, which echoes the long-standing position of the American Library Association, concluded:

“The Florida Library Association believes it is not in the best interest of the residents of Florida for publicly supported libraries to be managed by for-profit organizations. Therefore the Association opposes any efforts to provide library service by contracting with such organizations.”

The county’s former library director, Ed Kilroy, also opposed the deal.

“I think what we’re going to find as they get further into the contract, I think there are going to be some unintended consequences that they are not aware of, nor have they truly vetted it,” Kilroy told Myfoxorlando.com.

David Barnett, the current director, did not return a call seeking comment.

Commissioners who voted against the measure also did not respond to Library Journal’s request for comment, but Commissioner Michael E. Hartford told the Osceola News-Gazette that the commissioners “haven’t worked hard enough to get the community’s input into this; we don’t have standards set that we can readily review other than the number of hours of operation.”

LSSI CEO Brad King said his company is “excited to play a role in making sure that the citizens of Osceola County continue to receive excellent and sustainable library services for years to come.” King, who has been CEO since April 2011, said the transition is in the works.

“Our leadership team is hard at work to make sure that the transition is smooth and imperceptible to the library patron,” he said.

According to the agreement, operation hours will “initially” remain unchanged. LSSI will offer positions—at the current base salary—to all current 76 library employees who must reapply for their positions, and compensation levels will remain unchanged for at least six months.

The library employment issue was a concern of FLA’s and one around which all five commission members rallied. “Our commission as a whole wanted to ensure that every employee be offered their position,” said Attkisson.

John Cortes, of Kissimmee, said his concern is what happens to employees after six months.

“I don’t see why you have to outsource money to Maryland; these library workers love their community,” Cortes told the Gazette. “It’s all about dollars; why haven’t you sat down with employees and asked what is going on with them. Think about the employees, think about the people, think about your community.”

The library workers who LSSI hires become LSSI employees and would receive company (not county) benefits, such as a 401(k) plan. LSSI has said previously that its benefit packages are often comparable to what a given municipality offers, but the company has also been criticized for cutting salaries and benefits.

Employees told the Orlando Sentinel they were concerned that after six months LSSI would cut the staff, hours, pay and services.

The county will remain responsible for water, sewer and electrical utilities, and LSSI will cover interior repair and maintenance, as well as exterior upkeep and repairs.

The central Florida deal will expand LSSI’s operations into a sixth state, and bring its total number of managed public library systems to 17. The company currently manages 71 branch operations in California, Kansas, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, and now Florida.

The majority of LSSI’s libraries are in California, and the Golden State may soon be outsourcing yet another library system to a member of the private sector. Just weeks before the enactment of a January 1, 2012 California law that will require libraries wanting to leave public systems to document how such a move would save money, Simi Valley’s City Council recently voted to remove its library from the Ventura County system.

This past July, Santa Clarita, CA approved a similar management deal with LSSI, wherein in the city will pay LSSI $3.9 million per year over the next five years. That deal is expected to save Santa Clarita $1 million annually.

As a result of the LSSI agreement, Osceola County will make changes to its FY 2012 budget in its next budget amendment, scheduled for January 9.

“This was just a pure business decision,” said Attkisson.

LSSI has been eyeing Florida for some time. In January 2010, a Florida court dismissed LSSI’s petition challenging Florida’s State Aid to Libraries program, which requires library governing boards to employ a full-time ALA accredited librarian with an MLS in order to receive state funds. The FLA opposed the petition.

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