Privatation “Unlikely” To Stop – Teachers Union Pissing Its Panties

Posted on November 30, 2011

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New Jersey (Matt Fair-The Times/nj.com) – First they came for the district’s cafeteria workers, then for its security staff and bus drivers. Slowly, over the last three years,

Toby Sanders said outsourcing not only reduces the quality of service for students but also contributes to social and economic decline as higher paying jobs for city residents are given to out-of-towners paid cut-rate wages.

Trenton Public Schools has moved toward privatizing parts of its staff to cope with rising employee costs and reductions in state aid.

Union leaders fear the effort is unlikely to stop anytime soon.

District officials, including school board president Toby Sanders, say they’re under mounting pressure from the state to trim costs by any means possible.

“The strategy of the state is to privatize as many positions as possible in an effort to get out from paying benefits because the costs constantly escalate,” said Sanders, a frequent critic of outsourcing efforts. “Where they can privatize they are going to try to compel it.”

While the moves may be made with an eye toward saving money, union officials say the quality of the services being privatized are being dragged down.

“When they continue to privatize and privatize and privatize it’s like, what are they expecting to happen outside of saving dollars?” said Trenton Education Association (TEA) chief Naomi Johnson-LaFleur. “What do they expect to happen? Or do they think it matters? Are you trying to improve quality for the children of the district?”

ECONOMIC DECLINE

Sanders said outsourcing not only reduces the quality of service for students but also contributes to social and economic decline as higher paying jobs for city residents are given to out-of-towners paid cut-rate wages.

“Much of the time, the services that employ the highest concentration of minorities and the highest concentration of the people who live in the community are the first to be privatized,” he said. “Our country and our society and our economy is restructuring itself to basically create a kind of feudal system where you have very wealthy individuals and companies getting low-skilled jobs done at the lowest possible price. There’s something wrong with that.”

The district came close to outsourcing its custodial staff over the summer, and a private company was brought in several months ago to assume some of the responsibilities of in-house paraprofessionals who assist teachers who work with special education students and pupils with medical conditions.

Mission One Educational Staffing Services was awarded a contract in September to provide paraprofessionals. The district had laid off 22 of its own in-house paraprofessionals during the summer, but the workers were offered their jobs back to help deal with an increased number of in-district special education students this year.

Union officials say that Mission One’s workers have declared their intent to take over all paraprofessional services in the future.

“What they’re saying to my members is that they’re here to take their jobs,” said Betty Glenn, head of the Trenton Paraprofessionals Association. Officials with Mission One have said they’ve heard no complaints about their workers from the district.

CONTRACT FOR SUBS

Meanwhile, Mission One’s sister company, Source 4 Teachers, last month was awarded a contract to provide substitute teachers for the district.

“This move of privatizing our substitute teacher workforce is of course one more scheme to reduce costs of services when in actuality it will probably result in reduced access to services and a lack of consistency,” TEA vice president Dave Winogron told the school board last week. In some cases, he added, substitutes acting as long-term replacements for teachers out on sabbatical or maternity leave have ended up transitioning into full-time instructors for the district. “I wonder if that’s still going to happen.”

The district recently floated a proposal to outsource its remaining in-house preschool programs as part of a large-scale school restructuring. While the district uses a number of community providers for preschool programs, in-house classes remain at about 10 Trenton schools.

Interim superintendent Raymond Broach said at last week’s school board meeting, though, that the idea was far from becoming a reality.

Outsourcing preschool programs was one initiative put forward in a report on privatization commissioned by Gov. Chris Christie last year. The document proposes dozens of areas across state government that could generate savings through privatization.

Both union officials and Sanders, Trenton’s school board president, said that Christie’s agenda was driving the push for privatization in the district, which is currently overseen by state fiscal monitor Mark Cowell.

“It … is no secret that our state monitor, Mark Cowell, works for the governor and is doing the governor’s bidding,” Winogron said.

NOT THE ONLY SOLUTION

While Sanders conceded that current pay scales for low-skilled workers are unsustainable given the financial realities facing the state, he said privatization is the easiest solution, but not the only solution.

“It would require a way of reimagining these jobs as gateways to real opportunity,” he said. “We as a district could offer the jobs at a lower wage and put a hard cap on what people could make, while also providing training and education opportunities so that no one stayed in these jobs forever.”

However, he said, the hurdles placed before achieving such a goal are high.

“The two things that have stopped us from doing that are the contracts and relationships with unions and the positive relationships between the rich people who have these companies and politicians. We have a bunch of carpetbaggers who are in this privatization business,” he said.

Source for story:     http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2011/11/union_fears_privatization_in_t.html