Some support employees could be hired through outside agencies in pilot program
By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
EAST MARLBOROUGH — After a month’s delay, the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District Board of Education appears ready to approve a pair of contracts next Monday that would start a pilot program of using staffing agencies to replace some departing district support employees.
The contracts with CSS and CCRES, the latter a non-profit operated by the Chester County Intermediate Unit, would allow the administration to use the agencies to fill a limited number of support spots — capped at 10% of any of 23 employee categories — as a test to see whether such hires would save the district money without hurting student services. The contracts would run through June 30, 2014.
Members of the board worked through some issues with the contracts during Monday night’s work session meeting, setting up next week’s vote.
Currently, all support employees are part of the district’s health care and pension plans. By using an outside agency, those additional costs — which in some cases exceed the total salary of the employee — would not be incurred by the district. The concerns, though, were whether contract employees would have the same dedication to students and the district as the current support staff. Officials made it clear the agencies would only be used to hire replacements, that no current staff would lose jobs or be replaced.
Superintendent of Schools John Sanville said that the district has already used a similar method in finding personal care assistants — aides for special needs students — because, previously it had been difficult for the district to hire them on its own. Additionally, other positions — including some single-run, special-event bus drivers have been hired by the same method.
Although there weren’t five votes for the contracts at the October board meeting, Jeff Leiser was absent and then-member Holly Manzone resigned at the start of the meeting, it appears there will be enough support Monday night. Leiser said he supports trying the pilot program and Gregg Lindner, who had concerns about placing limits on the number of hires during the pilot (as well as concerns about one payment clause in the CCRES deal, involving fees if the district hired a contract employee after six months), said he was more comfortable with the contracts as discussed Monday night, meaning it is likely there will be six votes for the contracts.
Kathleen Do argued for delaying the decision until January, when new board members Michael Rock, Steven Simonson and Carolyn Daniels join the board, replacing Leiser, the departed Manzone and Letitica Flores DeWilde, but there seemed to be little support for the idea.
“Jeff has been here four years,” board president Eileen Bushelow said, saying she couldn’t support delaying the contracts. “I think he brings more to the table on this issue than the new members would.”
And other suggested that the new members will have opportunity to weigh in, if needed.
“There’s no reason that the new board can’t order the superintendent to stop hiring on the contracts, if they see fit,” member Keith Knauss said, if an issue arises.
Still, concerns were noted about having contract workers with one set of benefits (or none) and district employees with another work side by side, and concerns about access to confidential student information.
In other district news, the board opted to take no action to replace Manzone, whose term expires after next week’s meeting. On Dec. 2, Rock, Simonson and Daniels will be sworn in for the board’s annual reorganization meeting.
The board also saw a draft version of the communication’s audit conducted by David R. Voss and Associates. Voss joined the board via telephone conference to discuss the report.
The audit, in which Voss and his staff conducted discussions with various stakeholders, parents, students and staff drew a few conclusions: the general public doesn’t feel the district listens well, although it sees the schools as excellent.
Other gaps identified by the audit: no strategic communications plan, no crisis communications plan, no social media plan and a failure to fully use the phone notification system. It also pointed out failures to brand the six individual schools.
The report also suggested that the local media favors other school districts, that the district fails to properly explain issues, and it has failed to put out enough good news.
The report suggests a need for better Web sites for the individual schools and more students on the front page of the district site.
Voss offered to work with the district to solve many of these issues — and augment the efforts of its new Communications Director, David Listman — for $65,500 for one year of development and consulting.