The message was given last Tuesday afternoon to the custodial and maintenance support staff of the Upper Perkiomen School District that a recommendation would be made to the school board at the April 11 meeting to outsource their jobs.
Some 30 full-time and part-time employees could be affected by the move.
Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Yonson broke the news to the group of employees and, even though the subject has been talked about at an official level for the past two years, the notice came as a shock to many. Several employees mentioned that administrators held a communications meeting with them about a month ago to address “morale issues” and nothing was mentioned at the time about outsourcing their jobs.
According to employee reports, Yonson pledged that any service company selected would be hired with the condition that they employ on the existing staff. That didn’t comfort many of the employees.
A group of employees met on Saturday to discuss the news and share their views. They appointed long-time custodian Al Saylor as their spokesperson. The group is united in their opposition to outsourcing; even with the guarantee of positions with the contracted service provider. The concerns of the employees are many.
Some fear that once a contract is signed and employees are hired by the outsourcing service, they can be assigned to other schools serviced by the company that would be well outside the Upper Perkiomen Valley. This could force some employees to seek jobs elsewhere and be replaced at the local level with a lower paid, part-time workforce; possibly workers who may only spend short-term work assignments here.
One of the proposals submitted to officials even recommends that the school district consider expanding services with the provider based on UPSD staffing turnover, suggesting that it is expected.
According to Saylor, many of the current staff performs duties well beyond the scope of their jobs, and they do it well.
“I know a lot of the kids and even help them tie their shoes…we dig through the trash cans to help them find lost items like retainers,” said the Hereford custodian.
Saylor added that “almost all of the staff are local, taxpaying residents. We make purchases for the district at local businesses…we live and shop locally.”
Other employees interviewed cited their loyalty to the district and willingness to take on duties unrelated to their jobs whenever the need arose. They now fear that new employees will not have that loyalty and a contracted service provider will charge extra for duties not explicitly defined in any contract - tasks performed now because the current staff has a vested interest in the community and school district.
The group of employees has launched a petition drive that they hope will help keep their positions as employees of the Upper Perkiomen School District.
In part, the petition reads: “Over 90% of the support staff are district tax-paying friends and neighbors with their own children in the district who support the local economy. Outside contractors are not non-profit organizations. The come in to make a profit, and take it out of the district by any and all means possible. We must keep the family friendly atmosphere in our schools. Once this outsourcing process begins, it will not end. We must rise up and put an end to it now. We must keep control, pride, safety and our own people in our beloved schools. The Upper Perkiomen School District is the heart and soul of our community. It helps maintain our property values and brings new taxpayers to the community.”
The next meeting of the Upper Perkiomen School Board is Thursday, April 11, 7 p.m. in the multi-purpose room of the Education Center, 2229 E. Buck Road, Pennsburg (Upper Hanover Township). The subject of outsourcing custodial and maintenance services is expected to be on the agenda.