outsourcing paraprofessionals

The School District spins the roulette wheel on outsourcing vendors – What’s going on in TE?

The saga of outsourcing continues in Tredyffrin Easttown School District … Last week at the infamous TE School Board meeting, we listened as the Administration and School Board members presented the case for outsourcing of aides, paraeducators and substitute teacher positions.  The business manager Art McDonnell, personnel director Sue Tiede and superintendent Dan Waters provided the background and the reasons for choosing Substitute Teacher Services (STS) as their preferred outsourcing vendor.

At the meeting, I asked McDonnell for the names of the other four outsourcing vendors and he was unable to remember the complete list. I do recall Kelly Services was one option however; the services and fees of the other vendors were not presented to the public.  I asked McDonnell if we could assume that STS was the low bidder at a rate of 22.5%.  Although McDonnell responded that the District was not required to accept the low bidder because no RFP (Request for Proposal) was required, he did offer that STS was indeed the lowest bidder. McDonnell further stated that the 22.5% was a negotiated rate, down from 34%.

Tiede, McDonnell and Waters repeatedly told audience members that STS would provide a great opportunity for our employees, that they would make more money with the outsourcing company, have the ability to contribute to a 401K, keep their same jobs and on and on.  We heard that even though STS was the largest employer of its type in the country, that the District would retain complete control over who worked in our schools and that interviews would be conducted on site, etc.   Waters volunteered that an administrative employee of STS would actually have an office in the administration building! In other words, the public sales pitch of STS knew no bounds.

During the District in-service training for aides and paras today, Waters announced that STS is no longer involved in the proposed outsourcing, stating that the company had pulled their proposal.  Eight days since the School Board meeting and the preferred outsourcing vendor is no longer a consideration and that replacing STS is CCRES (Chester County Regional Education Services).  Why the change … this made no sense to me.  Little over a week ago, the Administration led the community to believe that STS was the best fit for the employees and that the company offered the most experience and maximum cost-savings to the District.

Absent any details from the School Board or the District to explain this outsourcing vendor change, I contacted STS and spoke for 45 min. to Jay Godwin, the president of STS.  Although Godwin would have liked to work with the TE School District, his decision to remove his outsourcing proposal was two-fold.

The first reason that Godwin offered for withdrawing his proposal was the School Board’s decision to delay the vote on the outsourcing plan until June 17.  Godwin did not believe that there is adequate time between June 17, the earliest date that the Board could approve the outsourcing agreement and July 1, the start date of the agreement to meet all the necessary State documentation requirements.

According to Godwin, Pennsylvania state law requires school district employees provide certain documentation, including Act 34 (Pennsylvania State Police Criminal Background Checks), Act 114 (PA Department of Welfare Child Abuse History Clearance) and Act 151 (Child Abuse History Clearance). Unless TESD employees had this required background checks within the last year, all necessary background checks, etc. are required.

When asked, what he thought the adequate time frame to accomplish the necessary ‘paperwork’ to move 175+ employees to an outsourcing plan, his response was 3 months. Had the School Board approved the outsourcing plan at the May 13 meeting, although less than his preferred 3 months time frame, Godwin felt he could accomplish the task.  However Godwin was of the opinion that a 2-week turnaround timeline was not possible for his company,  STS. He was unwilling to say whether another outsourcing vendor could meet that 2-week requirement.

The second reason for withdrawing the STS outsourcing proposal was based on TE School District  resident and employee sentiment.  Godwin was overwhelmed by the anti-outsourcing feelings of the public and the employees.  Typically, when a school district is considering outsourcing, there is a longer timeline for public discussion. The District plan to outsource the aides and paras took the residents, parents and employees off guard; and was met with swift and immediate opposition. If you couple the short timeline with misinformation and inaccurate budgetary numbers from the District, the reaction should have come as no surprise to the School Board and Administration.

As much as Godwin wanted to be a part of the TE School District, he said that he knew there would be unhappy employees and an unhappy community, and that was something that he did not want for his company.  Based on the sentiment of the residents (and employees, many of which are also residents) Godwin is of the opinion that this “is not the time for outsourcing in TE”.    Godwin has worked with many school districts and the  community’s anti-outsourcing response is the loudest and most significant he has seen in his career.

We discussed the uniqueness of TE School District and the education and background qualifications of our current aides and paraeducators.  Godwin acknowledged that the high level of education and commitment of these employees was not typical and would probably not be achievable by an outsourcing company.  I do believe that Godwin intended to hire all our current TE School District employees – I think that he truly understood their value and credentials.  Personally, I think Godwin feared that he would lose many of our current TE employees if the District outsourced and, may have been concerned whether he could replace them with the same high standard.

Godwin and I discussed how helpful it would have been for the outsourcing company (in this case STS) to meet with the aides and paras before the School Board meeting.  Such a meeting would have given the employees an opportunity to ask questions, voice concerns, understand the benefits, healthcare, etc. etc.   School Board and Administration transparency was discussed, with Godwin agreeing that an issue as important as outsourcing needs all options thoroughly vetted, and discussed in public, as part of the decision-making process.  Godwin was forthcoming and extremely willing to answer all my questions — his candor much appreciated.

Based on my conversation with Godwin, I am left with many questions including:

  1.  If the School Board approves the outsourcing plan on June 17, how is it possible for any outsourcing company to meet the deadline of July 1?
  2. If STS was the preferred vendor offering the best cost-savings to the District, where was CCRES on the ranking?
  3. How does CCRES propose to complete the necessary background checks, etc. within 2 weeks, should they receive the contract?
  4. The Administration is not meeting with CCRES until tomorrow, when will the aides, paras, substitute teachers be given the proposed plan?
  5. When does the School Board intend to explain that STS, the preferred outsourcing vendor has withdrawn their proposal?
  6. Presumably the fee schedule, cost-savings, benefits change with a new vendor, when is the public given this information?

The taxpayers deserve to know what is going on in this District. Where is the leadership of the School District?

Following the last School Board meeting, I sent two emails to School Board president Kevin Buraks. The emails voiced concern on two topics – my opposition to outsourcing of aides, paras and substitute teachers and the issue of intimidation by the Administration towards the employees of this District. My first email ended with the following, “You must lead … the employees of the District deserve your support, they need your help.  It is no longer acceptable for District employees to live in fear of their jobs.”

I closed my second email to our School Board president with, “We need governance, we need leadership.   To say nothing and to do nothing is not an acceptable solution.”

For the record, there has been no response from Mr. Buraks.  Today is Primary Election Day and Kevin Buraks is on the ballot seeking re-election.

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TE School District … Intimidation to silence

I am not writing today based on an isolated email from a disgruntled school district employee.  I wish that were the case.  Phone calls, text messages and emails have come to me from teachers, paraeducators, custodians, kitchen workers, support staff and aides all painting an eerily similar picture of the work environment inside our award-winning TE schools.

If you want to control someone, all you have to do is make him or her feel afraid.  It appears that the TE School District is now an environment of intimidation with administrators calling for loyalty, demanding public silence and leaving employees fearing for their jobs.

From the outside, the school district appears the image of excellence by any standard – impressive test scores,  high achieving students in all areas – academics, athletics and the arts, supportive parents and caring teachers and staff that believe in putting education and students first.

However, those working inside our schools describe an atmosphere far differently … a place of fear and intimidation … a place where our District employees, fearing retribution, do not feel like they have a voice.   One poignant email read in part, “We have signs all over about anti-bullying, yet the staff gets bullied.”  Another email contained these words, “If you speak out and they (administration) don’t like what you’re saying, and you’re not a ‘yes person,’ then you will literally … you could lose your place there. You could lose your job.”  I just read a comment posted on Community Matters that says TENIG employees were rebuked by the Administration for attending Monday’s School Board meeting.  If true, this level of harassment must stop.  School Board meetings are public meetings and all employees are welcome to attend.  There is a policy that only TESD residents may speak at Board meetings with the exception of TENIG and TEEA union presidents.

The TE School District is committed to a safe and civil education environment for all its students that is free from harassment, intimidation or bullying and the same right is extended to all District employees. TESD Policy, Regulation 4330  “Unlawful harassment by and of TESD employees” provides the procedure for an employee to report unlawful harassment to their immediate supervisor, or to the Superintendent of Schools, if the complaint involves that supervisor.  But herein lies the problem – if the District employees are scared of the Administration, and fear retaliation and possible loss of their job, how are they supposed to speak out? And where do they take their message?

This discontent between administrators and staff that has led to low morale in the schools did not just begin this week.  Although certainly exacerbated by the proposed outsourcing of aides, paraeducators and substitute teachers, there is an unsettling picture that is beginning to surface; a workplace shrouded by fear and intimidation.

The School Board Directors of Tredyffrin Easttown School District need to lead.  The taxpayers of this community pay the administrator salaries of the School District and we elected you as the overseers.  Now the community is  respectfully asking you stop deferring all your decisions to the Administration, and to  simply … govern.

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