OSEA seeks outsourcing accountability
OSEA was joined by the Oregon Education Association (OEA) and AFT-Oregon in supporting a bill that would instill accountability into the outsourcing process, ensuring that cost savings do not come primarily from cuts to school district employees’ salaries and benefits.
Student transportation, food and custodial services are popular targets for school boards when looking to save a buck. But the evidence shows that districts often do not achieve the promised cost savings, and lose much of their ability to oversee contracted services and make needed corrections.
Senate Bill (SB) 294 would take major steps toward accountability. It would allow access to a judicial writ of review of a district’s cost analysis, which is already provided for in most other cases of subcontracting. Currently, those wishing to challenge a contracting decision must do so in court — a time-consuming and expensive process — and even though OSEA won its court challenge against the Central Point School District on behalf of former school bus driver Stephanie Hicks, the process took several years.
“The sheer length of the judicial process failed to provide equitable and just relief here,” said Sarah Drescher, the attorney who successfully represented Hicks in the case. “(Current) law is just a goal if we don’t have any mechanism for enforcement.”
“Our members have a deep-seated fear of being contracted out, and that fear is legitimate,” OSEA Government Relations Specialist Tyler Shipman added. “It has been proven time and time again that when our members are contracted out, they see a decrease in salary, health care benefits and retirement benefits.”
OEA Government Relations Consultant Jared Mason-Gere testified that outsourcing “does have detrimental impacts” on the jobs of teachers and other certified staff, who rely on the dedication and expertise of classified school employees.
A lobbyist opposing the bill tried to characterize Corvallis School District’s experience with outsourcing as positive, something that Sen. Sara Gelser — who served on the Corvallis School Board prior to running for the legislature — was quick to counter.
“I think it’s one of the biggest mistakes the district has ever made,” said Gelser, who was not yet on the board when it voted to outsource. “… “We’ve had very significant problems with safety, including appropriately securing wheelchairs and, as a school board member, we had absolutely no authority to deal with those issues.”
She added that the contractor routinely advertises help wanted ads that say “no experience necessary,” which gives her pause. Gelser went on to note that bringing school buses back in-house is not a very viable option for Corvallis because the board sold off its fleet — a common risk districts take on when outsourcing student transportation.
Marcus Swift, director of political and legislative affairs for AFT-Oregon, entered written testimony in support of the bill.
“The decision to contract out is not one that should be made lightly, and we must ensure that the cost/benefits analysis is accurate,” Swift said. “… This bill ensures that districts are producing a correct cost/benefits analysis and that employees have a way to challenge an incorrect analysis.”