Sorting opinion from fact on Unionville outsourcing

Price’s outburst underscores why outsourcing process must be fact-based, not opinion driven

By Mike McGann, Editor,

Outsourcing school services, such as busing, will be a difficult decision for Unionville.

EAST MARLBOROUGH — It was hard not to feel bad while watching it.

Dr. Paul Price’s diatribe Monday suggesting that the request for proposal to evaluate outsourcing was either incompetent or biased against outsourcing was one of those publicly self-destructive moments that make you want to cringe, as a human being. The reporter in me made sure I kept taking notes, but I felt a sense of embarrassment — seemingly shared by many in the room.


Price’s recent outbursts almost seem calculated to prop up the opponents of his stated positions, building sympathy for them through his conduct. He’s ignored repeated requests by his colleagues not to continue issuing his own statements — and he again Monday night handed out his take on the pension reform bill.

And while he’s been colorful up until Monday night — and certainly a font for good news copy — his allegations crossed a line Monday night. Questioning the integrity of the administration in this instance was inappropriate, unwarranted — and frankly, seemed a bit like grandstanding from here.

I think it’s clear that people have the right to their opinions. Price, rather obviously, seems to want to outsource transportation, food service, janitorial and groundskeeping services for the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District. And there’s nothing wrong with having that opinion — but like a lot of things in Price’s world, it appears he seems to embrace his opinion as fact.

The fact of the matter is this: outsourcing might save a lot of money. It might also leave district students with compromised safety, could leave the district and administration hamstrung and dependent on outside contractors and with less overall control of operations. That the quality of service being maintained is in doubt, goes without saying.

Right now, a level-headed look at the subject invites many more questions than answers. Without a sober analysis of the costs, risks and what non-monetary benefits students and parents stand to lose, it’s impossible for the board to make an informed decision. That’s a process that should unfold over the coming weeks and months and frankly, it should be a tough call.

Schools Superintendent Sharon Parker has been forced to walk a knife edge on the subject — and seems to well understand the impact of such decisions. She has put in a lot of effort to make sure there is fact-finding and a full understanding of the implications, both financially and on students and parents and that the process is as objective as possible. For that, she, and the rest of the administration deserve credit — for being a calm, reasoned voice when talking about a difficult subject.

But it’s a process that will be harder — and more damaging in the long term — if we continue to see board members attempt to represent their opinion as facts, and Price is not the only board member guilty of that, to be sure.

Having spoken with others who have been through this process, it’s a little disingenuous to suggest — as some have claimed — that those fired by the school district will be immediately rehired by the outside companies. At best, in neighboring districts, it’s been a mixed bag, with some employees taken on, and others not. Pay and benefits have generally been lower — and working conditions often worse. Let’s not forget that many of these district employees are also local residents and taxpayers, too — and no small part of our community. We need to be upfront and honest — people, people who have a direct impact on our students, are going to be left without jobs if outsourcing goes forward.

Maybe, for the sake of the taxpaying public, that’s the right decision, but it’s unfair and disrespectful to these employees to suggest they need not fear for their employment during this process.

Monday night’s outburst won’t be the last emotional discussion of the subject matter — and if an informal survey of parents is an indication, I’m not sure that the Board of Education has any sense of the fury it will face in 2011 on the subject — and how broad based community opposition to outsourcing seems likely to be marshaled in the coming months.

For now, one can only hope that reason drives the process — but with elections coming 2011, more than likely, that seems an unrealistic expectation.

Let us hope that Monday will be the extent of the inappropriate personal attacks during what will be, at best, a difficult process. If there can’t be peace on Earth in this holiday season, let there be dignity and respect during the Board of Education meetings.

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One Comment

  1. Paul Price says:

    Almost every other school district in Chester County outsources busing with no apparent problems. Suggesting that outsourcing poses risks to children is clearly not valid as based upon the majority of Districts that already do it.

    The PSERS increases will cause our payroll expenses to escalate greatly over the next 5-10 years making the cost difference between in-house and outsourced services a much bigger figure.

    Unless the taxpayers want to see 5-10% annual increases in their property tax rates we’ll need to cut spending. I would much prefer to save money via outsourcing of non-education related services than be forced to eliminate academic programs or professional staff.

    The idea that we can continue with things as they were before is not a viable option in today’s world. Our choice now is to cut costs in ancillary services or academic areas.

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