Cost savings and avoidance is one of the main selling points Education Solutions Services uses in its online pitch to public school districts.
“Whether its payroll expenses, pension contributions or one of many insurance costs, we take it all off your district’s plate,” the company says on its website. “Additionally, we eliminate rising costs to your general fund and decrease indirect costs by freeing up invaluable district resources.”
School districts across Pennsylvania are being squeezed by the twin vise of rising health care and pension costs that exceed inflation and the maximum cap allowed under Act 1 for annual property tax hikes. One strategy has been to outsource certain groups of employees to contain future costs by removing those positions from district payrolls and benefits plans.
Carlisle Area School District is one of four districts in Cumberland County that have contracts with ESS, a Tennessee-based firm that bills itself as the “largest education-exclusive talent company.”
In June 2017, Carlisle school board members approved a 2017-18 budget that began the transition of aide positions through attrition from district employment to ESS. As aides leave the district by retirement or resignation, new aides are hired through ESS.
Carlisle administrators now recommend the board transition the remaining aides to save an estimated $600,000 in personnel costs in the 2019-20 budget. Even with this proposal, Carlisle faces a projected $3.1 million shortfall for next year.
ESS did not respond to requests for comment, but information about the company was available on its website.
ESS was formed in July 2017 by the merger of Education Staffing Solutions of Tennessee with Source4Teachers/Mission One of New Jersey. It was further expanded by the acquisition of EMS SubDesk of Oregon, SubTeachUSA of Arkansas and PCMI wilSub of Michigan.
As a result, ESS has a presence in 21 states mostly in the South and Northeast. It has clients as far west as California, Oregon, Utah and New Mexico. The company is present in every county in New Jersey and almost every county in Arkansas.
Closer to home, there are ESS clients in 34 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, concentrated mostly in the north-central and eastern parts of the state. Aside from Carlisle, the company has contracts in Cumberland County with Big Spring, Shippensburg and South Middleton school districts.
ESS also is present in Derry Township School District in Dauphin County, Upper Adams School District in Adams County and the school districts of Chambersburg, Fannett-Metal, Greencastle-Antrim, Tuscarora and Waynesboro in Franklin County. ESS is also the contractor for the Lincoln Intermediate Unit in Adams, Franklin and York counties.
Job postings on the ESS website fall under three main categories. Corporate positions relate directly to the operation of ESS and involve jobs in customer service, finance and human resources. Substitute and permanent positions involve the school districts.
The aide positions that could be outsourced in Carlisle fall under the category of “permanent,” where the district, in early March, was advertising openings for an emotional support aide, an instructional assistant, a learning support aide and a personal care aide. Those openings fall under the current attrition-based arrangement Carlisle has with ESS.
Two other local districts were advertising jobs on the ESS website in early March. Big Spring had openings for a health care aide and an instructional assistant while South Middleton had openings for an instructional assistant, a personal care assistant and custodians.
Some other job titles advertised in Pennsylvania include school nurse, classroom aide, pre-K lead teacher, assistant teacher, paraprofessional, certified behavior analyst, administrative assistant, study hall aide, nurse assistant, cleaner and special education paraprofessional.
Perks and benefits
If the Carlisle board approves the outsourcing, the current aides would have the opportunity to reapply for their jobs under ESS. For months, the aides and their supporters have been speaking out against the proposed outsourcing in the hopes of retaining their current benefit package.
In its promotional material, ESS lists the following benefits, perks and learning opportunities available to permanent employees:
- Weekly pay and a tax-advantaged 401(k) plan
- An employee recognition program that includes Employee of the Month and Impact Awards
- teractive training courses and online modules
- A monthly raffle with up to $1,000 worth of prizes per month
- An incentive program offering $75 for each referral an employee makes
- An employee discount shopping portal
The promotional material lists as benefits to school districts improved fill rates with highly qualified employees, a daily customer service structure and administrative relief from having to hire, train and place staff members.
“We work closely with school districts to absorb the tasks of hiring, credentialing, training, managing, evaluating, placing and retaining skilled employees,” the website reads.
ESS manages an even broader range of substitute positions including teachers, food service staff, counselors, clinicians, administrators, speech/language pathologists, physical therapists and occupational therapists.