Rising pension and escalating health care costs are putting intense pressure on school districts to lower costs. Tredyffrin Easttown School District is no different and there will probably be outsourcing discussion at Monday’s Finance Committee meeting. Fueling the discussion of outsourcing TESD aides and paraeducators is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. As of January 1, public schools are required to provide health care coverage to all employees working more than 30 hours per week. The penalty for not providing health care coverage will be steep and school districts will face significant fines for noncompliance.
There are around 150 aides/paraeducators working in the District. This group of employees is not included in the TENIG union and does not have benefits. Although TENIG is comprised of ‘non-instructional’ workers, I wonder if it would be possible to expand their membership to include the aides and paraeducators. There is strength in numbers; by increasing their membership could help TENIG when they fight their own outsourcing battle.
The District is currently not legally required to provide benefits to non-unionized support staff. Based on a right-to-know request filed by Keith Knauss, it appears that this group of employees does not have healthcare coverage. In response to Keith’s request for the benefit records of non-unionized staff, Art McDonnell’s response was, “The documents do not exist in School District records.” I take that to mean that the non-unionized staff receives no benefits. As a follow-up, I asked Keith about the benefits of non-union employees in Unionville-Chadds Ford School District. His response was that none of UCF’s 250+ support employees is unionized. However, most all are full-time and those that work 30+ hours per week receive standard benefits (healthcare, sick days, personal days, disability, life insurance).
If the interpretation of Art McDonnell’s response is correct and the aides/paraeducators do not receive health care benefits, then there is little doubt that the District is seriously considering outsourcing before the Affordable Care Act takes effect. While outsourcing may save the District money, is it really the right option? Special needs children and their families depend on the District aides and paraeducators. Mainstreaming children with special needs so they may interact and share a ‘regular’ education experience is an important task. Integral to a successful education experience is the consistency and established relationships with the support staff. How can the School Board consider outsourcing those employees who share the most personal, one-to-one relationship with our District’s students? It makes no sense that the children who need the most consistency will be subject to “outsourced” caretakers who can feasibly change daily based upon the staffing circumstances of the outside company.
Also, I would be remiss if I did not mention the obvious safety concerns that comes with wholesale turnover of 150 familiar District employees by outsourcing. Is the newly hired safety consultant aware of the District’s possible outsourcing? Have the consequences of outsourcing been thoroughly discussed by the District Safety Committee? We know that making our school buildings secure is important but so are background checks and appropriate oversight for those in contact with our children.
Is outsourcing aides and paraeducators to avoid the cost of complying with the Affordable Care Act the right alternative for TE?