By Mary Spicer
VERNON TOWNSHIP —
Representing the 120 members of the Crawford Central Educational Support Personnel Association, Orrie Long, custodian at East End Elementary School at Second District Elementary School, told members of Crawford Central School Board Monday night that the standing-room-only crowd of 40 white-shirted men and women filling the room for the board’s monthly work session were there to show support for their union’s negotiating team.
In negotiations with the school district for the last 2 1/2 years, the district’s support personnel have worked without a contract since June 2011.
They aren’t alone. Members of Crawford Central Education Association, the district’s professional union, have worked without a contract since June 2012.
When Long described a two-year pay freeze currently proposed by the union as an illustration of how his organization’s negotiating team has worked in a spirit of compromise and cooperation, the room burst into applause.
“The board and the administration has felt that spirit of compromise and cooperation,” school board President Jan VanTuil, a member of the district’s negotiating team, agreed, noting that the negotiating teams for the district and its support staff will meet again Thursday afternoon.
Those negotiations, however, have included a discussion of outsourcing services.
During Monday’s work session, Jan Feleppa, a retired educator seeking a seat on the Crawford Central board in the November election, asked the board to take the option of outsourcing support staff positions including paraeducators, secretaries, cafeteria workers and maintenance personnel off the negotiating table.
After the session, VanTuil told the Tribune that outsourcing services is definitely part of the negotiation.
“Extensive savings can occur through an outsourcing company because they are not required to pay the same pension that the school district is,” VanTuil said, “and they are not required to provide the same health insurance as the school district.
“Both of those items could represent a significant savings to the district,” she said. “Employing people is very costly. With funding cut the way it has been by the state and federal governments, there are very few things we can do to control our budget. Employees are one thing we can control — and we are making every effort to control those costs, the same as every other employer in the community.”
VanTuil, who wouldn’t specify the estimated savings amount, stressed that the decision on whether to outsource is part of the negotiation with the union representing the support staff and is not connected to the June 30 budget deadline.
Board member Jeff Deardorff, however, has tied his vote on the budget directly to the outcome of the outsourcing question.
Pennsylvania’s School Code requires each of the state’s 500 nine-member school boards to pass the annual budget with a minimum of five votes, regardless of how many board members are present. In preparation for Crawford Central’s final vote, which will be taken during a special noon meeting on June 28 in the district’s Instructional Support Center, 11280 Mercer Pike in Vernon Township, VanTuil asked each board member to informally indicate if they were ready to vote to pass the budget as it currently stands — or if the administration had more work to do.
“As long as they settle a contract (with the support staff), OK,” Deardorff said. “If they go to outsourcing, my vote is no.”
Heavy applause burst out from the white-shirted audience.
Board members Frank Schreck and Mitch Roe said they both foresee “no” votes in their future.
“We cannot go on with the benefit packages we’re forced to provide,” Schreck said. “We can’t live this way.”
“We’re forced to pass the budget by June 30‚ and it must contain all that,” board member Richard Curry responded.
“We’re taking the death of a thousand little cuts instead of one big cut,” Schreck replied.
MARC back on the table
For Roe, a line item added to the budget since the board put its preliminary budget into place in late May presents a stumbling block.
Business Manager Guy O’Neil told the board that a line item of $66,700 has been added to provide funding for Meadville Area Recreation Complex. Of that, approximately $20,000 represents the MARC’s share of debt service on the biomass burner built to provide heat for the Meadville middle and senior high schools and Crawford County Career & Technical Center as well as MARC — and approximately $40,000 is “for swimming.”
“The MARC bothers me,” Roe said. “That’s money that should be used in other places. Times are tough. People had better get used to it.”
After the meeting, VanTuil described the amount shown on the line item as “tentative.” According to VanTuil, a meeting is scheduled for Thursday between delegations representing the school board, Meadville Area Recreation Authority and the Community Action Team formed to facilitate discussions between the two.
“A more detailed explanation of the district’s possible contribution will be presented at that time — and discussion will continue based on that meeting,” VanTuil said. “Progress is being made — because at least the MARC is back in the budget as a line item, although the exact amount is still up for discussion.”
During its May monthly meeting, the school board agreed to outsource its technology services to Questeq, a technology management firm headquartered in Coraopolis, at a cost to the district of approximately $540,000. Part of that change will eliminate the positions of two current computer technicians, who will be hired by Questeq, as well as two positions the district has been unable to fill. However, those positions were not part of the conversation Tuesday night because, according to VanTuil, neither technician belongs to the support staff union.
As for the current state of negotiations between the district and its unions, “We are working very hard to resolve both teachers and support staff contracts,” VanTuil said. “We are meeting constantly.”
Crawford Central School Board will take its formal vote on the district’s 2013-14 budget at noon on June 28. The board will also meet for its regularly-scheduled board meeting at 5:30 p.m. on June 24. All meetings will be in the Instructional Support Center, 11280 Mercer Pike, in Vernon Township.
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.