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Brandywine Heights Area School Board voted unanimously on Monday to give Superintendent Dr. Martin Handler authority to send out a Request for Proposal (RFP) to outsource the paraprofessionals.
“I understand that this is a topic not without controversy, we’re almost being forced into that situation by the Affordable Health Act that takes effect in 2014,” Handler said.
Right now, the paraprofessionals work for six hours a day and 30 days a week. According to Handler, they are considered parttime yet under the affordable Health Care Act, it does not matter how they are classified as long as a worker works 30 or more hours a week, they are eligible for benefits.
“If we kept them on as our, staff it would be at a large expense for the district,” Handler said.
Carol Bortz, President of the Brandywine Heights Area support staff union, said that there is nothing that she or any of the other paraprofessionals could have done about the new Affordable Health Care Act.
Handler did say that after going on hiatus for a year, the negotiations between the administration and the paraprofessionals will pick up again in March with a date to be determined because the negotiations need a new mediator after the previous mediator had to leave due to health issues. Right now the tentative date for negotiations is set for April 9.
Once an outsourcing company is chosen as a result of the Request for Proposals, the union has 30 days to match the savings to the district as proposed by the outsourcing company.
In the past the different support staffs have been able to cut parts of their contract so that the jobs do not go to an outsourcing company.
“We’re not given the opportunity to take unemployment,” said Bortz.
The union had many supporters in the crowd who asked why other districts were able to keep their paraprofessionals.
Mertztown resident Lois Godfriaux stood in support of the paraprofessionals.
“I taught at Kutztown for 10 years and they manage to keep their benefits for their support staff and their families,” Godfriaux said.
She made the suggestion that the board cut their hours to 25 a week, which would bring them just under having to provide medical benefits for the paraprofessionals but again stated that the Kutztown Area School District was able to give their support staff medical benefits.
“We have top people here supporting our teachers and caring for our students and it is my understanding that 80 percent of them are living in the district,” Godfriaux said.
She then asked if the school district, would they rather be paying salaries or unemployment?
Dr. Handler answered by stating that if a company is chosen and it comes to outsourcing the job that there would be a stipulation in place that requested the paraprofessionals would be employed by the company before they try to find other candidates.
“What you’re not telling the community is that we are either forced to work for the company at a lower rate doing the same job or we have to leave and that we will not be able to collect unemployment,” said LuAnn Bennecoff, a paraprofessional at the middle school.
She said that in her experience, the people who live here do not mind paying higher taxes because they know what the paraprofessionals do.
“We’re in the limelight, we’re getting scratched at because we care about the students and we’re not here to get rich,” said Bortz.
The support staff union has already passed a strike authorization vote which means that they are able to strike at anytime but have to give the district a 48-hour notice.