The Berks-Mont News (

Paras Outsourced: Brandywine Heights School Board votes yes to SOS

By Lisa Mitchell, The Kutztown Area Patriot

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Wearing red and “No SOS” buttons, Brandywine Heights para-professionals rallied to keep their jobs from being outsourced without success.
After hearing an hour of public comment, Brandywine Heights School Board approved outsourcing para-professionals on Thursday night.
The response to the approval was at first stunned silence, followed by the crowd of para-professionals, parents, alumnae and students leaving, grumbling and shouting. Para-professional staff union president Carol Bortz said as she left, “Hope you have fun finding paras.” One person threw a water bottle at the board members.
Outside, people hugged and cried.
Mark McDade, of Pennsylvania State Education Association, a labor representative for Brandywine’s support staff, said during a rally prior to the meeting, “This is a form of bullying.”
Those rallying against the outsourcing of paras wore red to show solidarity.
“Red is also the color regarding bullying,” said McDade. “Telling an employee, if you don’t take this wage cut, then we’re going to outsource your job, that’s an ultimatum and that’s wrong.”
The approval means a pay cut from $9.50 to $8.55 an hour.
The 7 to 1 vote awarded a three-year contract at a total cost of $1,753,369 to School Operations Services Group Inc., of Malvern. Bill Groff voted no. Roger Bollinger was absent.
Prior to the vote, board member Elizabeth S. Huhn thanked those who have been attending the meetings and thanked them for their comments.
“You’ve been respectful, you’ve been thoughtful, you’ve been emotional and honest,” said Huhn to the crowd in the high school auditorium, urging them to continue to voice their opinions and expectations to the board.
“We will not always do what you think we should do, but please understand that does not mean we’re not listening and that we are not compassionate about the stories that we’ve heard and the situations that you deal with everyday,” said Huhn.
Huhn thanked the paras “for doing outstanding work, each and every one of you wearing red shirts.”
Barbara Nissel of SOS also provided a presentation to the board. The presentation was not on the agenda.
“After spending 25 years managing and supervising support staff, SOS Group believes and understands the valuable contribution that support staff make to the school community,” said Nissel. “Support staff are some of the hardest working people in the school... We believe para-professionals are vital contributors to the classroom and school success.”
Nissel, who cited a background in education for herself and others at the SOS team including teachers and principals, said SOS is prepared to train and support para-professionals. One Brandywine para-professional will be designated as a liason between the school para-professionals and SOS.
During public comment, para-professionals, parents and students pleaded with the school board to vote no to the contract with SOS.
“We treat (the students) like our own children. This is like a family. This school is amazing. I’m here everyday because I love my kids. I don’t want to find another job, I want to finish my career at Brandywine,” para-professional Lynn Hilbert, Longswamp Township, told the board. “Please reconsider because we’re the best of the best and you won’t find any better than us.”
Para-professional Nancy Heffner, Topton, told the board, “You need to give us the treatment and respect we deserve.”
Para-professional Rita Kayhart asked the board why any of the Brandywine paras would want to apply for SOS for reduced wages and benefits.
“Vote not to outsourcing,” she said. “It’s not worth the gamble to our children’s education.”
“Bringing someone in from the outside is not going to have the same type of community base as we do and the investment we have with the children and the community,” said para-professional Pattie Weaver during the rally prior to the meeting. “SOS can come in and yes, they have the chance to rehire us but it doesn’t mean that we will be employed by them.”
Now that the board approved the SOS contract, Brandywine para-professionals will need to apply with SOS to be re-hired. They will also need to complete their clearances and any other procedures required during the hiring process.
The Patriot incorrectly published online that the no vote was by Bryan Rothermel, when it was Bill Groff. We regret this error.