Roughly 40 para-professionals are out of a job following the Brandywine Heights School Board’s 7-1 vote to outsource their positions during Thursday night’s meeting.
Teachers, parents, students, and para-professionals within the district wore red to show their opposition to the outsourcing and protested outside the school prior to the meeting.
Previously, the board looked into expanding a contract with School Operation Services (S.O.S.) to include para-professionals. S.O.S. currently provides food and janitorial services to the district.
The meeting began with a presentation that was not on the meeting agenda, by S.O.S. highlighting the services they could bring to Brandywine.
“We are not a conglomerate. We are a responsive and flexible company from Pennsylvania that always puts students' needs first,” said Barb Nissel, of S.O.S.
Nissel acknowledged that S.O.S. has never provided para-professional services for students in need to any district, but Nissel said she is confident S.O.S. can provide the assistance teachers need to do their jobs.
“We do not have any current para-professional clients, however, our experience in education gives us all the necessary ingredients to make this a success,” Nissel said. “All current para-professionals will have first priority to be rehired.”
If positions go unfilled, Nissel said S.O.S. would advertise locally.
Para-professionals in attendance couldn’t disagree more, saying the district’s decision to outsource their jobs and offer them to be rehired by an outside company for less pay is an insult. Those whose jobs were affected can reapply to S.O.S., however, they would earn 90 percent of their current pay and would lose pension and benefits.
Leah Kline, a special education teacher in the district, spoke about how many para-professionals won’t return and how their replacements won’t be properly trained.
“These aides live and work in this community. They give students the consistently and stability they need,” Kline said to one of many standing applauses throughout the meeting.
“I will not work for this company. You should give us the treatment and respect that we deserve,” said Nancy Heffner, of Longswamp.
Board President John Scheetz said the decision to outsource wasn’t easy and explained that as budgets are being cut, the move to outsource ensures Brandywine can still afford the para-professional program.
“I appreciate everyone who came to tonight’s meeting. I live in this community, too… the savings over the next few years will ensure the para-professional services can continue,” adding, “I truly believe the services will be the same.”
The three-year contract, which will save the district an estimated $700,000, begins in the 2014-15 school year.
Still, to para-professionals in attendance, the savings were little comfort for all their years of dedication to Brandywine.
“We knew how to do the job. We are the best for these children,” said Lynn Hilbert, a frustrated para-professional.