It is almost impossible to believe that we live in a wealthy Philadelphia suburb with award winning, nationally ranked schools and our School Board is voting whether to outsource 175 aides, paraeducators and substitute teachers at Monday’s School Board meeting.
Since attending the Finance Committee meeting and writing about it this week, I have heard from parents, residents, aides, TENIG members and teachers. Not a single person contacted me to say that they support outsourcing, touted as a cost-savings measure by the District. I understand that there is pressure to cut costs in the District budget but cutting costs should not be at the expense of our most vulnerable students.
Although the District business manager Art McDonnell presented a couple of slides at the Finance Committee meeting about outsourcing, many in the audience left short on answers and confused. Here’s a review of what I think we know at this point about the outsourcing. According to McDonnell, the staff researched outsourcing opportunities and met with five different vendors. We were not given the names of the other vendors, only the recommended vendor – Substitute Teachers Service, Inc. (STS). During the evening, it was repeatedly stated that STS is one of the nation’s largest outsourcing vendors and has been in the business for 25 years.
The “Analysis of Outsourcing of Aides and Paraeducators” slide indicated that the 2013-14 anticipated wage and benefits costs for aides and paraeducators is $3,359,784. The cost to the District to outsource with STS is 22.5% of actual wages paid to the aides and paraeducators. STS will pay all benefits form the 22.5%. It was unclear what those ‘benefits’ were beyond the required Social Security, etc. The agreement with STS will be for 3 years. The increased costs to the District for outsourcing in Year One is $126,307 and Year Two is $59,678. In Year Three, the District will see a projected savings of $529,544. How does the District go from losing money ($190K) the first two years to saving $500K? I have no idea.
The anticipated wages and benefit costs for substitutes for 2013-14 is $842,250. Like the aides and paraeducators, if outsourced to STS, the cost to the District is 22.5% of actual wages and vendor pays all ‘benefits’ out of the 22.5% and is a three-year agreement. The increased cost to the District is Year One of $76,500, Year Two of $60,112 and Year Three of $44,275. It is my understanding that the District will not see a savings until Year Six if the substitute teachers are outsourced! By outsourcing, the District loses money for 5 years before recognizing savings … and this is viewed as a solution?
To be very clear, should outsourcing occur, there is no guarantee that the aides and paraeducators will still have jobs in our school district. How do I know this absolutely … I asked that specific question at the Finance Meeting and was told by Sue Tiede that the District would ‘encourage’ STS to keep our employees. I asked if the District’s agreement with STS could mandate that the outsourcing company hire our employees and the answer was NO. I don’t view encouraging a vendor to hire our employees as any guarantee to the 175 aides, paraeducators and substitute teachers.
When I asked the Board if STS would compensate the TE employees at their current pay level, the answer from Art McDonnell was no, he indicated that their pay would be lower if outsourcing occurs. However, by the end of the outsourcing discussion, that response shifted with Dan Waters stating that the outsourced employees would actually be paid more if they were outsourced. The rationale behind this claim – when outsourced, the paraprofessionals will not be making the 7.5% PSERS contribution so therefore the employee makes more money. What? This is not more money as the contribution was the employee’s money in the first place.
I’m asking the question again, ‘Where’s the fairness”? Three months ago, the School Board approved raises for the highest paid employees — the administrators. Now the Board is contemplating outsourcing the employees with the least amount of power, making the least amount of money. If you recall, the administrator raises were buried in a consent agenda; and we came very close to see a repeat performance with the outsourcing. The game plan at the Finance Committee meeting was to add outsourcing on the School Board meeting consent agenda. However, thanks to Board member Anne Crowley speaking out, outsourcing will be a priority discussion, which allows for public comment prior to the Board vote. How does the District balance raises to administrators against the outsourcing of aides … interesting interpretation of ‘shared sacrifice.’
In closing, I am including excerpts from some of the emails in the last few days in regards to the District’s proposed outsourcing:
From a District aide …
“These individuals have direct contact with our children on a daily basis. They are our greeters in the lobby, the aides who work one on one with special kids in the classrooms, they monitor lunch periods and recess, they work in the library and in the office , they assist teachers in the classroom, accompany our children on field trips and the do so much more. Many live in our community, have children in the school system. They are our neighbors and friends.
Personally, I worry that non-local strangers will be brought into our schools and not give the same quality of care and attention to our kids that my colleagues or I would. Our current aides have a college degrees and many master’s, they go through rigorous security screening by the district and by the school staff. Many have been working here for several years. “
From a resident …
“I challenge the School Board to spend some time really thinking about the outsourcing decision before you vote. Spend some time; really know what these people do, because those paraprofessionals have among the hardest jobs in the building. I’ve done that job; I respect the heck out of those people.”
From a TE teacher …
“This outsourcing will affect all students in various ways none of which are good. Paraprofessionals are partners to the teachers in the education process. They pick up where the teachers leave off. They are there to lend a hand when one or a few students need it, so teachers can continue teaching the other students in the classroom. I think the important message here is the fact that the role of paraprofessional in TESD is a very important one and I urge the Board to weigh the financial savings against the impact on our students. I’d like the Board to think about the students first. I think we’ve lost our way a little bit with regards to our students.”
From a parent of a special needs child …
“I completely support the paras of TE. They do this job because they love it and they love being with the children. The paras make very little money and many have teaching degrees. To me, as a parent, it makes me feel very comfortable sending my child who has special needs to school each day. I know what it would do to my child having a different face in class each day who doesn’t know what to do or how to help. Cutting costs should not come at the expense of our students. Both special needs and typically developing children benefit from having para professionals in our schools that are there every day.”
If you care about the future of 175 aides, paraeducators and substitute teachers in the Tredyffrin Easttown School District plan on attending the upcoming School Board Meeting. Whether you are a parent, a teacher, a paraprofessional, a TENIG member or a resident and oppose outsourcing, join me on Monday, May 13 at 7:30 PM at the T/E School District Administration Offices (TEAO), West Valley Business Center, 940 West Valley Road, Suite 1700, Wayne.