Pattye Benson

Community Matters

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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  1. sidelines yes my wife can walk away, and get another job. She would be a strong candidate in even this crappy employment market. And yes Im a free market guy and it is odd that I am on the side of the workers, and all that.
    Im not sure what that has to do with this issue. To the degree that she and others can walk, that is true and she very well may do so. But the workings of the school board and administration is not that of a free market. You may be surprised to find I have sympathy for them as they are between a rock and a hard place. And much of their money allocation problems are not of their doing.. However now we don’t know the truth, what they say can be ascribed to BS.. how much money in reserve? How we be sure? I have said above that the public needs to know the truth about numbers, ccres, etc so that decisions can be made. I think the board underestimated the vehemence with which the aides and their supporters reacted.

    Union forces are a part of market forces. In the public sector, with the fox in the hen house, the public sector/politician duopoly has perverted the landscape. I have to admit as I did already I find it unusual for me to be on this side of the argument.. Maybe it is an eye opener. But I am no Emma Goldman( i think thats her name)

    I cant wait to hear the details of the ccres plan. I am just tired of hearing from you, implying if you will, that these are wealthy tennis moms who don’t play tennis, need something to do and have these jobs to spend on white wine and cheese. These are obnoxious assumptions, much like the rich are bad and greedy and we have to give the store away to those that DONT want to help themselves.. what a tangled web we weave.

  2. FF–never said that and never presumed it. Sorry it sounds that way. I very much know the truth…trust me on that. No one works full time for the love of the kids…that is of another time. maybe we need to rethink why we expect so much from an unpaid board? Supervisors make a few thousand a year….

    I will say once and final–if voters scrutinize candidates as much as this situation, we’ll all be for the better. Just because they aren’t paid doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be held to a high standard…being hired for 4 years at a time with no obligation except at the voting booth. And for record FF…I’m glad you are seeing how complex this is…if you go back and read much of what you said said during the last TENIG discussions…I think you will recognize that a lot of what is being said now is because MOST of the aides are US…and TENIG was THEM….and yet, the principles are not all that different.

    By the way–an RTK request takes 2 minutes. Ask for every single document you think relates…and then ask what the board discussed at their last exec session that was “confidential matters”…because that is not one of the approved topics…(personnel, litigation, real estate, negotiations).

    Again, good luck. And wine and cheese is YOUR idea….don’t project on me. You are internalizing to do that…don’t sit and say numbers are BS. GET THEM. Two minutes. Free. Ask for known documents so they cannot obfuscate that it will take time.

    if you haven’t guessed, I think most of the ugliness has happened since Art McD was hired and built his little empire…but he followed such an arrogant jerk that no one noticed….

  3. “I think the board underestimated the vehemence with which the aides and their sipporters reacted.”

    I think the aides and their supporters are stunned by the arrogance and boldness of administrators and a board that would not only propose such a dehumanizing strategy but do it in such a way that shows complete disrespect and indifference to employees in our district who actually add value to what this is supposed to be about………..working with and watching over all children in the schools. And to try and slip this through in a consent agenda in the hopes citizens would not find out after the uproar caused by this same action a few short months ago, goes to show just how little regard the administration and board has for the tax paying citizens of this community.

    How many administrators do we need to educate a child? They have no contact with children and their salaries are higher than that of many governors’ salaries. Now they want to get rid of an incredibly educated and experienced group of employees who do work one on one with not only special needs children but all children in the schools on a daily basis for salaries that are a mere small fraction of their own salaries. This is insanity.

    The fox is in the hen house and if you want details about the ccres plan, past experience with his group has shown you will have to invest your time and your energy to get it.

    They make these huge salaries and they have the audacity to come to a public meeting without having vetted the company (STS) they chose to use. And now we’re supposed to trust them?

    They compare themselves to executives in the private sector to justify these salaries that are more than double what counterparts in the private sector receive. What do you think would happen to an executive in the private sector who came to a meeting of stakeholders and presented information (or the lack) like they did a few weeks ago? I think we all know the answer.

    We need leadership that kicks the fox out of the hen house and that serves the taxpayers and citizens and children of this community.

    1. Take a quick look at the resumes of the sitting board….and remember that all administrators except the business manager are career educators….where exactly does the “business” acumen come from?

      Doctors, lawyers, educators…not even a token business owner or accountant on today’s board.

      Now you are reviewing new candidates and asking about outsourcing– a minister, and incumbent lawyer and educator….I don’t know the rest. How about taking a look at who can make change? Use a spreadsheet? Do math in their head?

  4. Interesting debate about administration pay.and to think that if the aide issue never came up would we be discussing admin pay?It is interesting that as our district has garnered accolades over the years, when revenues and state government regulations were not a factor as acutely as they are now, no one cared much about all this.

    WHy has the state taken such a role in revenue limitations? Strong senior citizen lobby? Is there a nefarious attempt to lower all boats by restricting taxation in high end school districts? We have seen our vaunted programs cut, even as administration and teachers (union represented) continue on the path of unaffordable health care and PSERS. We see here even at the state level how oppressive ruling juntas can be influenced by special interests and other powers that dont reflect in our legislators eyes a greater good.

    Rome is burning. Maybe our administrators deserve their pay, but as I have noted times before, the lack of trust, hidden agendas, connected constituencies unlike aides who are only connected to our community (yes for a small stipend) poisons the perception. Lets hope the aides are restored. Documentation is now avaiable to our board. As an aside, I think it is unlawful for any federal administration (read President) to abrogate any part of a law duly passed by congress.. Article II Us Constitution. That is another matter, and one concern that this admin has violated more than once,, (see immigration)

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