A few weeks ago this column offered an opinion on the outsourcing of certain services within the Quakertown School District and Montgomery County’s Parkhouse operation. The issue now visits the Upper Perkiomen School District (UPSD) where a proposal to outsource custodial and maintenance services is scheduled to be presented at the April 11 meeting of the school board.
In the midst of budget season and contract talks with educators, the school district is facing the task of balancing the books for 2013-14. Looking for ways to provide the same service at a lower cost is part of the due diligence expected from any administrator.
When looking to outsource any service, every item must be clearly defined before anyone signs on the dotted line. An important aspect of any outsourcing decision is a review and understanding of the “social cost” of the decision. Is it in the community’s best interest? Taxpayers don’t want the cheapest service available; they want the best service at the best price.
UPSD employees were informed that whichever service provider the district selects would be required to take on the existing staff. No matter how honest or earnest that desire is, will it hold up after the contract is signed? What is the rate of turnover for the would-be service provider for employees absorbed through previous contracts?
Will the existing employees, most of whom are residents and taxpayers of the district, continue to work in the UPSD or be transferred out to districts that would require those employees to travel great distances to work? Will they be replaced by a revolving door of part-time employees working at half the price and doing half the job?
Many current employees go above and beyond by providing services that are not part of their job. Will they still be there to do that, or even be permitted to do the little things that make them special, under contracted services?
There are definite advantages to having and keeping familiar faces on the job and that must count during the decision-making process.
Due diligence includes keeping the public informed every step of the way. It is vital that officials listen to the comments of the people as part of the research step before a decision is made. Due diligence must include providing officials and department heads an incentive to take a deeper look into the way they currently operate and search for ways to do a better job and provide better services at a competitive cost. One of the best ways to get that process started is to look in your own trash cans and see what’s going out the door.
After honest comparisons are made, we sometimes find that we can do a better job and that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence; what we have may really be the best product or service available.
There is a peace of mind in knowing that you have the best service available at the best price and that the decision wasn’t just made out-of-hand or a willingness to accept the status quo but by research, discussion, comparison and public input.
If we can be assured of services that are equal to or better than what we have now; if we can be assured of savings equal to or better than $214,000; if we can be assured that the products purchased will be of equal or better quality than those used now; and if we can be assured that the savings will not result in increased expenses in other line items, then do it.
If not, it could end up being the most expensive $214,000 the school district ever saved.