Brandywine Heights School Board looks at outsourcing paraprofessionals

Patriot photo by Lisa Mitchell Brandywine Heights Superintenedent Dr. Martin Handler and Brandywine Heights School Board during a recent meeting.

Brandywine Heights Area School Board dispelled rumors of the district outsourcing all support staff, the only item on the discussion table is outsourcing paraprofessionals.

“We have no intention of outsourcing food service, custodial, or secretarial staff for the next school year. We were looking at the potential for outsourcing the paraprofessionals for next school year,” Superintendent Dr. Martin Handler said during a Committee of the Whole meeting last Monday.

Brandywine Heights Educational Support Professional Association (BHESPA) president Carol Bortz confirmed that “a general membership meeting was scheduled prior to the Board publicly discussing future outsourcing of our work.”

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Bortz said that at the meeting the union discussed that the board was considering sending out requests for proposals with regard to paraprofessionals.

“It was also discussed that the current agreements for food service and custodial employees ends in June, which will allow the Board to request additional subcontracting bids from outside agencies at that time,” Bortz said.

BHESPA voted for a strike authorizationon Jan. 27.

“That means they can strike at anytime, but they do have to give us 48 hours of notice,” Handler said.

According to Dr. Handler the last time he spoke to the union was in April of last year when they were presented with a contract proposal and the union negotiators left the session.

Board member Christine MacMillian voiced her concern about a possible strike and wondered whether or not the support staff would be forced to strike, should it come to that.

Dr. Handler said that he wanted it to be clear that it was not a lock-out and that should the support staff choose to strike, their jobs would be waiting for them.

“It would be an individual employee’s choice whether or not to strike,” Dr. Handler said.

The paraprofessionals work with special needs children from the time they enter the system until they graduate.

“My son has down syndrome and the one thing throughout this school that has been consistent has been his Para-Professional Lydia Burkhart,” said Katherine Deter, whose children go to Brandywine Heights.

Deeter asked the board to not use the support staff to find ways of balancing the budget.

The Brandywine Heights Area School District employs 40 paraprofessionals and the board has still not decided whether or not to outsource the paraprofessionals.

While Dr. Handler said the union was unwilling to discuss a contract based on the negotiators walking out after a proposal was given to them last April, Bortzsaid that they were ready to negotiate.

“We are ready to begin negotiations again as long as they are in private as all contracts should be,” Bortz said.

Dr. Handler wanted to clarify that the only member of support staff that are under consideration for being outsourced are the paraprofessionals.

Pennsylvania has a law that if you want to outsource a profession in a school, the school sends out a Request for Proposal (RFP). The RFP is comparable to a bid except the school does not have to choose the lowest bidder.

Once a company is chosen, the union has 30 days to come up with a way to match the savings that the outsourcing company can.

“A few years ago we looked into outsourcing the food service but the union came up with a way to cut their benefits,” Dr. Handler said.

Dr. Handler explained that the district tried to outsource the janitorial staff and the secretarial staff before. The janitorial staff was able to cut their wages by 14 percent and the secretarial staff was able to cut their wages by 15 percent.

“The only reason we’re thinking about the paraprofessionals is because they are the only group that hasn’t gone through it yet,” Dr. Handler said.

Even though many are concerned that they will be outsourced, Dr. Handler said that it would be months until they send out proposals, if they do decide to send out any.