Talks continue on eliminating support staff personnel in 2013-14 budget
The Upper Perkiomen School Board voted unanimously to table a motion on outsourcing custodial and maintenance staff last Thursday, effectively securing the jobs of 35 employees.
The move was met with enthusiastic applause and a standing ovation by some of the audience members in the Upper Perk High School auditorium, where the meeting was held due to a large crowd concerned about outsourcing and the budget.
While the motion was made by Board President Bill Scott to keep the 33 part- and full-time custodians and maintenance staff and two couriers employed by the district, Scott warned that the board may have to look at money-saving options, such as outsourcing services in the future.
“I don’t want anybody to think this is done because it’s not,” said Scott, responding to a question from Director John Gehman. “I want to emphasize that we are sitting here today but a year from now it may be a totally different situation. Hopefully things will improve that we don’t have to look at it again next year, but that’s not a promise.”
A presentation given earlier in the evening documented costs to the district from the proposals submitted by seven different companies, including Aramark, GCA Educational, Interstate, Jani-King, Marsden, Service Master and SOS Group.
According to the proposals, the companies, which ranged from nine employees to 250,000, could offer first-year cost savings from $105,068 up to $806,651. The savings from each company were slated to go up slightly in the second and third years of the contract.
Those numbers were markedly higher than previous quotes given to the district by only Marsden and Service Master, which declared savings of about $260,000 annually.
In their proposals, all seven companies put it in writing that they would hire district employees and keep them in-district as long as they maintained satisfactory performance.
“I ask the board to really take a hard look at those expensive positions to see if you can spread out the work somehow so we can save that money so next year we can keep outsourcing off the table,” said East Greenville Mayor Ryan Sloyer, speaking on recent hiring and expenses.
“Thank you for your wisdom and courage in not outsourcing the custodians,” said Marie Holtje of East Greenville, addressing the board.
Members of the public previously expressed concerns, with everything from student and staff safety to a lower quality of work if the district would choose to outsource.
Talks are still ongoing about eliminating support staff, as the district says they look to restructure certain areas, in an effort to cut costs and be more efficient in 2013-14.
At a finance committee meeting April 25, the board saw a recommendation by District Superintendent Dr. Beth Yonson to eliminate nine positions — two elementary instructional support teachers (IST); two instructional assistants at Marlborough Elementary, which could be reallocated to Hereford Elementary because of higher student population; one library and office assistant at Hereford; and four paraprofessionals, two from Marlborough and two from Upper Perkiomen Middle School, employed by General Healthcare Resources, an outside contractor.
Yonson said she believed the way the district manages instructional support staff could be improved — still meeting the needs of students while changing the process of how those students are assessed and assisted.
Several people said they disagreed with the proposal last week, noting at-risk students were receiving vital services from instructional support teachers and instructional assistants.
“I would suspect the general public and even members of the board don’t fully realize what an IST teacher does and how they effect educating our students,” said Brooke Roe of Barto, noting those teachers were responsible for everything from determining at-risk students and appropriate interventions for them to collecting data, charting progress and meeting with parents.
“No one came and asked me or any other instructional aids as far as I know or observed me during the course of a day at school to see exactly what I do and how much this position is needed at our school,” said Patty Stahley of East Greenville, an instructional aid at Marlborough Elementary. “I am busy the entire seven hours I’m there and I’m not complaining. There’s a lot of students who need extra help.”
Yonson said she did ask for all that information and received it from administrators regarding the number of students needing and being helped by aids and is constantly present in all the district’s buildings, including Marlborough.
“I’m in the building and I know you see me quite a bit. I see the aids and how hard you’re working and I know you do a good job. I know exactly what’s happening. Again, I feel there’s a better way,” she said.
Hereford Elementary instructional support teacher Eileen Dutcher, who is retiring this year, said she doesn’t think anyone on the board or high-level administrators know what instructional support looks like in the district, saying she believes administrators targeted instructional support because some of the parents don’t speak English and can’t read.
Upper Perk senior Trevor Schaeffer, who spent time with a reading specialist and instructional support staff at the elementary level, told the board he is currently taking calculus and AP classes.
“I was one of those kids. I’m excelling because of that early childhood support I got. I urge you not to cut it. You’ll see a decrease in the quality at school.”
The board voted on a $52,204,674 proposed final budget for 2013-14, which included those cuts. The first vote, for a 4.4 percent millage increase, was defeated by a vote of 3-4, with directors Jeff Feirick, Rob Pepe, John Gehman and Margie Gehlhaus voting against it. Directors Catherine Fenley and Raeann Hofkin were absent.
A subsequent vote to raise the millage 2 percent narrowly passed, with Feirick, who previously voted against 4.4 percent, moving in favor.
The budget, up 2.34 percent from this year, would use $2,520,895 in fund balance reserve. It would raise taxes for the median assessed value property owner $58.39 in Berks County and $72.75 in Montgomery County. That number includes a credit of $184.68 for a homestead/farmstead exemption.
Officials will talk more on possible support staff cuts and the budget at a committee meeting May 23 at 6 p.m. in the high school auditorium. Board Vice President Harry Quinque said the board’s mind isn’t made up on the elimination of instructional support staff and will continue talks until the final budget vote at the June 13 meeting.