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Getting Personal


Illinois ESPs Help Pass a State Law That Limits Outsourcing


Dave Arnold

How many times have you thought to yourself, "there ought to be a law!"

 

A few years ago I caught myself saying that when one of our paraeducators had her accumulated sick days taken from her after she'd been laid off.

When I spoke about it with my UniServ director, Marcus Albrecht, he said teachers were protected by law from the loss of sick days, but not education support professionals (ESP). This frustrated both of us to no end. ESPs are not protected by law the same as teachers in many respects. There ought to be a law!

This column explains how ESPs and Association staff worked with lawmakers to write a bill and create a law that sets limits on outsourcing, which until recently threatened to decimate locals across Illinois.

Our Story Begins

In 2005, my friend, Rich Dawson, learned his school district in Mascoutah, Illinois was outsourcing custodial positions. Without warning from school officials, Dawson and his fellow ESPs were suddenly jobless. This act got the attention of the Illinois Education Association (IEA).

The contractor announced he would generously hire some ESPs, although at one half of their previous salary. Well, don't do us any favors! Again, Albrecht and I were frustrated that this injustice was completely legal. Why isn't there a law, we asked.

Time after time, ESPs and UniServ directors fight for contract language to protect ESP members against subcontracting, the loss of sick days, and from a reduction in force (RIF).

While some locals gain contract language, most locals find themselves against a brick wall and a subcontractor with a hard heart. In recent years in Illinois, subcontracting was rapidly becoming a statewide threat to locals of all sizes. Albrecht and others at IEA and the National Education Association (NEA) knew something had to be done, but we weren't sure what.

At the time, IEA and NEA were concentrating on educational funding and our state's near-bankrupt teacher retirement system. However, ESPs, local staff, and some UniServ directors continued to discuss subcontracting with lobbyists and legislators. Why? Because all of know us know there ought to be a law protecting ESPs who dedicate their lives to helping create great public schools.

Unity Was Key

In the fall of 2005, IEA lobbyist, Rich Frankenfeld, contacted a group of UniServ directors and requested that they poll their ESP leaders to get a consensus on what their primary legislative ESP issues were. Of course, privatization and subcontracting were at the top of the list.

In January of 2006, IEA arranged for a group of UniServ directors, ESPs, and Region 5 Chair Jeanne Johnson, to meet with a group of state legislators to discuss subcontracting at public schools. At this meeting were state Sen. Deanna Demuzio and state Rep. Gary Hannig, who oversaw IEA Region 5. They consented to sponsor a bill in each chamber of the Illinois Legislature.

As IEA members and staff politely expressed their needs and concerns about the injustice of subcontracting school jobs, the legislators listened with both ears. This historical conversation produced shell bills that were presented at the statehouse that spring.

Never Say Die

While ESPs were excited about the subcontracting legislation, our enthusiasm soon dwindled. Other issues took precedence and were debated. Plus, state budget talks went into overtime. The "ESP bills" were gathering dust.

But IEA ESP Director Stacy Burroughs and Region 5 Grassroots Political Activist Peggy McGinness weren't about to let our dreams of job protection die out. While most ESPs were enjoying their summer break, Stacy and several others were contacting region chairs, ESP leaders, lobbyists, and legislators to keep the ESP bills in play. In the meantime, lobbyists Frankenfeld and Brian Rous stepped up to bat.

They developed alliances with the American Federation of Teachers and other community groups.

"It was decided that it was best if we moved this bill as a coalition," says Rouse, who also credits the leadership and tenacity of ESPs as helping to keep the spirit of the bill alive.
"They would talk with legislators and provide personal stories," Rous says. "They played a number of key roles. Our certified members responded to our call for action as well."

Circulating the Messsage

When school began in the fall of 2006, ESPs across the state were told to not forget the two ESP bills pending in the Legislature. Soon, ESPs were contacting area legislators and explaining the need for their vote on these two bills. In my approach to state representatives, I stressed school and student safety as it related to the subcontracting bill.

I also gave them a copy of a previous column titled, "Surrogate Parents. " It explains how ESPs often treat students like their own children, something that would occur to few, if any, profiteers like subcontractors. Others jumped on that idea and soon the article was being distributed to most of our policymakers.

The ESP bills were being met with mixed emotions at the statehouse as more and more ESPs contacted their legislators and the media. Still, the majority seemed supportive. IEA got behind the effort and during our state ESP conference in October, the need for pushing the subcontracting bill was explained to conferees. The message was simple: this was our best chance to finally curtail the rapid growth of subcontractors. It was history in the making.

The Opposition Responds

Last January was bitter cold outdoors, but the legislative push for the bill was on fire. ESPs would not relent. Soon, the Subcontracting Bill (House Bill 1347) and Rif and Recall Bill (Senate Bill 1560) were the topics of every ESP gathering in the state.

Every chance we had we either telephoned, e-mailed, or wrote our legislators. But we weren't the only ones. Subcontractors and education administrator associations met us head-on with equal force.

It was a battle, but none could match the letter that Albrecht sent to legislators. It did not pull punches. Here's a taste:

". . . this bill levels the playing field for education employees by placing controls on school districts considering subcontracting. Subcontracting firms prey on districts with cash problems, promising them first year "low ball" bids. Many districts then find out too late that the savings are temporary and fleeting."

Due Justice

We built momentum until finally both bills passed overwhelmingly early last summer. Those that had met with our ESPs at the first meeting in January of 2006 either sponsored or co-sponsored each of the bills. Many legislators stated that passage of the bills promoted student safety and were in the best interest of schools. They also said the bills brought due justice to hardworking ESPs. Listed below is text and analysis of the subcontracting and RIF bills.

It has been said by many that the passage of these two bills is the greatest legislative achievement for Illinois ESPs since the 1983 Collective Bargaining Act.

Every state has their battles with subcontracting and reduction in force. I hear talk about it every year at the NEA ESP conference. If laws against subcontracting can be passed in Illinois, they can be passed anywhere.

More Dave's columns.
Read a companion article on the Illinois subcontracting issue in September's NEA Today. See "ESP" page.
 
(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is a custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at dparnold@csuol.com.)

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.

Listed below is text and analysis of the subcontracting and RIF bills.

HB1347
(Third Party Subcontracting of School Services)
Rep. Gary Hannig
Coalition Position-Support
Rationale for Support

Throughout the state of Illinois public school services are being subcontracted to private companies with the promise of a cost savings to the school district and service at or above the current level.  Many times those promises are broken on both accounts and districts are left paying a higher price for service at a much lower quality.  This legislation helps ensure that public school services are:

Performed by the highest quality workforce compensated at a reasonable level and cost to taxpayers;
Completed in a manner that promotes and protects the safety of students;
Bid using a standard process that establishes requirements of accountability.

Analysis

This legislation places the following requirements on school districts and private companies bidding to provide services currently performed by employees of a public school district:

  • No contract may be entered into during the life of a collective bargaining agreement.
  • A 90 day notice must be given prior to the implementation of a decision to subcontract work to a third party (now a 30 day notice is required).
  • A contract to subcontract work may only take effect at the beginning of a fiscal year.
  • A subcontractor must provide evidence of liability insurance equivalent to that required by code and provided by the school board.
  • A comparable benefits package for employees must be provided by the private company.
  • Requires a three-year cost projection included in the bid that can not be increased.
  • Requires the board of education to provide a cost comparison.
  • Requires that the subcontractor provide information regarding sexual misconduct, substance or alcohol abuse, DCFS complaints and investigations, traffic violations, and licensure problems and revocation of employees who may perform the services.
  • Requires that review and consideration of bids take place in open session of regularly-scheduled school board meetings.
  • Requires two public hearings held before two regularly scheduled board of education meetings to discuss the issue. Public notice of the first hearing must be posted six months in advance of the first hearing.
  • Requires that a contract between a private company and a school board contain provisions that require the subcontractor to offer available positions to district employees who are terminated due to the contract.
  • Requires a nondiscrimination policy and equal employment opportunity policy.

SB1560
Educational Support Personnel Reduction-in-Force/Recall
Sen. Deanna Demuzio
Coalition Position - Support
Rationale for Support

This initiative would allow dedicated education support personnel (ESP) who are familiar with the school district, school building, students, and staff to continue their service to a school district in another position for which they are qualified in the event of a reduction-in-force (RIF) and would provide a reasonable notice to the ESP of a pending reduction-in-hours. 

Analysis

This bill changes the reduction-in-force and recall procedures for educational support personnel in the following ways:

  • Expands the definition of RIF to include a "reduction in hours" (currently it only includes a "severance in employment").
  • Requires a school district to provide an ESP with 30 days written notice of a pending reduction in hours (currently only provides notice for removal or dismissal).
  • Requires a 5 day written notice if the reduction in hours was due to an unforeseen reduction in student population.
  • Allows an ESP to be recalled to a vacant position in any category for which he or she is qualified for the following school term or within one calendar year from the beginning of the following school term (currently an ESP only can be recalled to a position in the same category).

Dave's View has been discontinued following the retirement of its author, Dave Arnold. Even though new columns will not be posted, we encourage you to review past columns.