South Middleton School Board members have tabled the execution of a four-year agreement that would outsource the hiring of classroom aides to vacant or new positions.
Board member Randy Varner made the motion to table Monday after a proposal approving the use of Mission One Educational Staffing Services failed to earn broad support.
The board on Aug. 21, by a vote of 6-0, had already approved an agreement with Mission One. At that time, Varner had voted in favor of the agreement along with board president Michael Berk, vice president Steven Bear and board members Stacey Knavel, Elizabeth Meikrantz and Robert Winters, according to the minutes.
Board member Tom Merlie abstained from the Aug. 21 vote while members Christopher Morgan and Scott Witwer were absent from that meeting.
On Monday, Varner and Knavel voted “no” to a proposal that would have used contract terms outlined in the agreement with Mission One to outsource the hiring of aides effective immediately.
Instead Berk suggested Monday that the outsourcing of the hiring of aides be included as a topic of discussion on the agenda for the upcoming Nov. 6 planning meeting.
“I thought we had this locked down pretty well,” Berk said Monday. “I thought we had some consensus to this. But I don’t think we do. We need to as a board dig a little deeper into this to understand what this is all about.”
Speaking out Monday during the board meeting, Knavel said she was concerned the use of Mission One could lower the quality of classroom aides interacting with South Middleton school children.
“These are people who work directly with students. … In many cases, the most vulnerable students,” Knavel said. She said the district is already having trouble drawing qualified applicants to low-paying classroom aide jobs.
Taking away the district benefit package would make it even harder to draw in quality applicants, Knavel said. She said the lack of a year-round schedule also hampers the hiring of classroom aides.
In recent years, school districts across Pennsylvania have outsourced substitute teachers and food service staff in an attempt to save money long-term. The savings come from removing employees from the district payroll to avoid having to pay increases in health insurance and pension costs.
While outsourcing makes sense in areas like transportation or food service, classroom aides work one-on-one with students, Knavel said. “That is essential to our core function, which is to educate the students. I need a better justification of it. I do not feel comfortable with handing those decisions over to a contractor.”
She was not alone.
“We have to be careful,” Varner said after Monday’s meeting. “Maybe there is a reason for it … a justification, but I haven’t seen enough of that to allay my concerns.”
Merlie suggested board members seek a better understanding of what classroom aides do within district schools. “A building aide today is not what a building aide used to be,” Merlie said.
“We need to get clarification on what our different aides are doing,” Berk said. “I’m hearing a lot of confusion. What is a good classification of aides and what they are doing?”
The Nov. 6 meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the board room of the Iron Forge Elementary School.