As parents, we teach our children to be cautious and to alert an adult when a stranger is present. We also teach our children that their schools are safe places where they can grow and thrive under the careful oversight of trusted educators and support professionals. That foundation is what Paterson Education Association (PEA) members pledge to uphold, and—more importantly—it’s what our children depend on as they sit in our classrooms and circulate our hallways.
That’s what makes the news that the Paterson School District officials are considering firing all Paterson schools’ instructional assistants and replacing them with transient employees from an outside company even more shocking. If the district goes through with this misguided proposal, it will affect more than 700 dedicated members of the school team. Instead of our students working with highly motivated, trained and properly vetted educators, the district would now rely on a bargain-basement, for-profit private vendor to send a revolving door of strangers to attempt to recreate what our highly trained instructional assistants do daily. To be clear, the district’s draft proposal would eliminate hundreds of blue-collar jobs, not any high-level employee assistant superintendent positions, supervisors or other positions set aside for the politically connected.
The PEA takes issue with any decision that adversely affects its members and our schools, and we are standing up to protect the jobs of those men and women who protect our students. These are the employees who protect our students from danger, are the first line of defense in an emergency and recognize our students before and after work hours.
Additionally, studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between how the relationship between a student and educator plays a large role in the trajectory of a child's academic success and social development. Establishing a positive relationship with his/her educator helps a student feel more comfortable and safe in their classroom environments, and these relationships are evident both inside and outside of the classroom. Paterson students deserve to have these relationships.
Let’s get one thing straight: When privatization or outsourcing occurs, there is an incentive for these outside companies to “cut corners” by skimping on the quality of the work performed. Yes, they may come into districts and promise savings, but what they don’t say is to keep costs low (and their profits high), these profiteers typically pay lower wages, offer no health benefits and don’t care about professional development. This guarantees transient employees, little interaction with parents and a complete disregard for the community.
Those who argue that contracting out is less expensive than in-house service delivery often ignores the hidden costs of privatization, such as expenditures for contract monitoring and administration, conversion costs, charges for “extra” work and the contractor’s use of public equipment and facilities. According to the National Education Association (NEA), “…the administrative costs alone add up to 10-20 percent of the price of the contract.” I may not be a math expert, but that doesn’t sound like long-term costs savings to me.
More importantly, however, when outside companies oversee district employees, problems can’t be easily addressed. For instance, if a parent has a concern, he/she may voice that concern to the school district, who, in turn, would then need to approach the private company to attempt to resolve the issue. Moreover, private companies cannot be held to the same standard of public scrutiny as school districts because they are not subject to the same requirements for open meetings, public information, and public input.
Our instructional assistants are the fabric of our community. They work in Paterson, live in Paterson and they vote in Paterson. They deserve better, and—frankly—so do all of you. The PEA is vehemently opposed to any scheme that shortchanges this community and will treat any proposal that seeks to privatize any of our employees as hostile and will pick up the gauntlet without hesitation to protect our members and our students.
John McEntee is president of the Paterson Education Association, representing nearly 3,000 education professionals in Paterson Public Schools