A controversial proposal to outsource staff would put a serious crimp on the paychecks of the remaining instructional aides employed by the Carlisle Area School District.
That was the word Thursday night from Melody Fountain of Carlisle, a library aide for eight years working at the Lamberton and Wilson middle schools.
“Outsourcing will significantly impact the compensation to this critical portion of the district workforce,” she told board members. “While some [aides] may see a small increase in their hourly wage, most will take a direct hourly pay cut.”
By her calculations, the switch-over from the district health care plan to the insurance provided by the contractor would cost each aide $144 a month for individual medical, vision and dental coverage and almost $479 a month for family coverage.
“With the increased cost of health care benefits, Carlisle aides will be working for significantly less overall compensation,” Fountain said. “The low hourly wage that the staff currently works for is offset by the benefits the district offers us. It is that portion of the compensation that allows many of us to continue working for the district and to support ourselves and our families.”
The proposed changeover would also impact paid leave, Fountain said. Aides now receive 10 to 15 days of leave per school year that roll over if not used. By contrast, an ESS employee could earn five days of “use it or lose it” leave after the first 90 days of school, Fountain said.
District administrators have recommended the board transition 87 classroom, library and personal care assistants to Education Staffing Solutions so that the district could save an estimated $700,000 in personnel costs in the budget for 2019-20. Even with this proposal included, Carlisle School District faces a projected $3 million deficit in the budget.
In June 2017, the board approved a budget for 2017-18 that began the transition of aide positions through attrition from the district payroll to the outside contractor. As aides leave the district by retirement or resignation, new aides are hired through ESS.
From June 2017 to August 2018, 23 aides left the district, leaving 87 aides employed by the district at the start of the current school year. In preparing the budget, administrators have recommended the board transition the remaining district-employed aides by encouraging them to sign up with ESS for the start of the 2019-20.
“We have taken no actions regarding the budget,” board president Paula Bussard told residents Thursday. She said the district budget process gets serious after early February when the governor releases his proposed state education budget.
“What we are trying to do is to put ideas out there so that we are thinking about and analyzing them,” Bussard said. There will be budget and finance committee meetings leading up to the May vote on a preliminary budget and final adoption in June.
Administrators in early December presented a draft expense budget that includes the proposed outsourcing of the remaining aides along with a projected $3 million deficit. Superintendent Christina Spielbauer has said the transition of the aides is just the first of what could be many cost-cutting strategies to come before the board this budget cycle.
Does outsourcing fall short?
In recent years, Carlisle has outsourced its food service staff, custodial staff and substitute teachers.
“While some may state that previous outsourcing initiatives have been successful due to cost savings, I believe they have had a significant detrimental impact on our school and students,” Fountain said. “I can personally attest to the reduced quality and performance of the outsourced night time cleaning staff.
“I regularly have to pick up the floors in the library because of the lack of vacuuming and the removal of trash,” she said. “I know the daytime custodians who are still employed by the district have to clean the bathrooms and halls in the morning that were to be done in the evening by the contracted staff.”
Melissa Wilcox, the mother of two children enrolled at Mooreland Elementary School, said she opposes the outsourcing of the remaining aides.
“The aides serve a very valuable role in our schools,” Wilcox told the board. “As you know, our classrooms are crowded. My son is in a classroom with 29 other eight-year-olds. I hear just as much about the aide as I do the classroom teacher. The aides know the children and how to meet their needs.
“Think carefully about the fact that 99 percent of the people you plan to fire are women,” Wilcox said. “Women that have a hard time mobilizing and organizing because many of them work two jobs and have children they are supporting at the same time. Think about the moment when you are facing these women at places where they are working double jobs and whether you can hold your head up high knowing you are costing them their pensions and their medical benefits.”
Wilcox called the $700,000 in savings “a drop in the bucket” compared to the overall district budget of about $86 million. As alternatives to outsourcing, she suggested the board consider dropping at least two administrative positions, stopping a sports program or reducing the funding on a building.
Wilcox said firing a whole category of staff would destroy morale. “The aides are the lifeblood of our schools,” she said. “In this small town of Carlisle, there is no place where the ripple effect of this decision would not be felt.”