By John Amato
“With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions.”
— U.S. President Abraham Lincoln
Outsourcing in the Crawford Central School District cannot be a business experiment for other entities in the community. According to the American Association of School Administrators, the central question that one must ask when considering outsourcing is what did management do that allowed things to get so bad that something this dire would even be considered? According to an article in the Association’s newsletter, often the most cost-effective solution is internal management reform, not outsourcing.
You may be asking yourself, “why are you so passionate about not outsourcing the support staff jobs?” My answer is that because I am a lifelong member of this community and I understand how important the jobs have been and the irreversible damage that will be done to our community should we choose to outsource. The people who hold these jobs were our students, or they are the parents of our students or the grandparents of our students, they are our neighbors, they go to our churches, they are residents of Meadville and Cochranton.
Today, paraprofessionals, secretaries, cafeteria workers and custodians serve the children of this district for average pay at best; some receive benefits and most have the opportunity to earn a pension. For many, these positions help supplement spouses who work minimum wage jobs, farm, own small businesses or work other low-paying service jobs, but ultimately it gives them a chance to succeed and contribute to the community. For some of them, this job with the benefits available is their best shot at some semblance of success. Outsourcing would be one more blow to a community where about 23 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
A decision to outsource the support staff must have a deeper motive than saving the district money. Let’s face it, if we were sincere in wanting to save money, we would not eliminate an aide’s job earning $18,000 whose pension would be $15,000 if they were lucky enough to complete 35 years. We would not hire a special education director at a $102,000 starting salary, nor have two curriculum directors at $113,000. We would not destroy the lives of those who make the least but instead look to reduce the lucrative salaries of administrators or at least roll back raises garnered over recent years.
Is it pension costs? Look at what we will pay for 21 administrators for pension benefits versus 120-some support staff, some of whom are part-time. Principals earn between $96,000 and $107,000; the federal program director, $99,000; and the business manager will earn $100,000. According to the most recent Pennsylvania School Board Association salary study, our administrative salaries are above the average for this region. A superintendent earning $140,000 after 35 years retiring at age 60 will earn a pension of $122,000 per year — a curriculum director at the same age and time of service will earn a pension of almost $100,000.
Again, coming from the American Association of School Administrators, outsourcing is definitely not a guarantee of savings — actually, after initial savings, oftentimes the cost rises. There can be cost overruns, unforeseen costs, complex contracts which hide costs, and some supplies and equipment may not be covered in contracts. Often, custodial costs soar because jobs that one would assume should be carried out by staff are not necessarily covered in contracts. Greensboro, N.C., expected to save $1.2 million, but in actuality it saved one-10th of that the first year, and after the first year costs rose to the point the district lost money.
There is a belief that if we outsource, most will apply to try to get their jobs back at what I believe will be a lesser wage with no insurance and no pension. But in Englewood, N.J., Mission One, an outsourcing company, had very few of the secretaries reapply. And although they filled the positions, years of skill, efficiency and knowledge were lost. Likewise, Englewood’s luck with its outsourcing contractor for aides, Delta T, was not much better. Aides were late or did not report for work. What recourse did the district have? None because the aides were now not district employees — they were managed by the outsourcing company.
Outsourcing can subject our most vulnerable students, those with special needs, to a revolving door of low-paid, less qualified replacements hired by the low bidder outside contractor. Is this better for children with special needs than keeping the dedicated long-time employees who parents and students trust and respect?
An economic analysis in Oregon found that for every 25 jobs lost through outsourcing in public schools, the local economy lost $233,000 due to decreased spending.
In conclusion, I would like to leave you with these thoughts and questions:
- Our district was cited on the last two audits for not maintaining proper records of clearance for drivers. Don’t you think this problem could become worse when we are looking at contracting out more than 100 positions — all of which have direct contact with students? Our own district believed literacy integration coaches and tech positions were properly certified. How can we count on an outside company to protect our children by ensuring only qualified and reliable people work in our buildings?
- To the school board — do you think you have been provided a complete account of proposed concessions made by the support staff? I think if you do your homework you will find out that they have made more than a good faith effort to settle a contract. By outsourcing, the heartless message you will send the staff will ensure this district’s failure. Regardless of how many times you change curriculum or what new flavor of the day you introduce to classrooms, we will fail because you forgot the most important principal of leadership: If you take care of your people they will take care of you. They will never let you fail.
Amato is a Meadville businessman who is a candidate for the Crawford Central School Board.