Privatization Efforts Find New Target in School Secretaries and Teaching Aides

Across the country, many politicians at the state and local level have been making catastrophic decisions impacting schools – all under the guise of “budget cutting” and often without any consideration to the harm they are inflicting on the students and communities they are supposed to serve. Latest case in point – Englewood, New Jersey, where the board of education is moving ahead with plans to outsource all school secretaries and teaching assistant to private companies.

On June 7, board members voted 8 – 0 to negotiate with two to private companies with the goal of outsourcing a total of 66 paraeducators and 24 secretaries. All this ostensibly to plug a $4 million shortfall, which, says Norman Danzig of the New Jersey Education Association, is hard to believe since the board submitted a balanced budget in March.

“The Board’s claim that there is a $4 million shortfall is unbelievable,” Danzig said. “Every year we hear about the district’s terrible finances, yet every year since 2005 they have finished the year with a surplus. How did they submit a balanced budget in March while knowing they would have a $4 million hole? They’ve never justified the $4 million.”

Or could it be another excuse to slowly drain the system of public employees, in which privatization has been a brutally effective tool. Englewood board members are considering awarding contracts to Mission One Educational Staffing Services for secretarial services and Delta-T Group North Jersey for paraprofessional services.

As far as the citizens of Englewood are concerned, however, the district hasn’t looked hard enough and are demanding that alternative solutions be found. Parents and other community members have attended board meetings to denounce the proposals and students have held protests at their schools.

They understand that sacrificing hard-working public school employees in Englewood – a 3,000-student district made up largely of black and Hispanic students – will strip their schools of invaluable dedication and experience.

“These folks have been doing their jobs for years. They know these kids,” explains Danzig. “The current employees have hundreds of hours of training, degrees past high school, and years of experience. There are special education kids involved. A lot them need one-on-one assistance. A lot of the kids who attend the schools are from families in the lower end of the socio-economic scale.”

The board now wants to replace these dedicated employees with people who will work for $12 an hour and no benefits.

“Who do you think you are going to get for $12 an hour? How much training and experience will anyone have for $12 an hour?” Danzig asks.

Alfred Doblin, columnist for the Bergen Record, agrees. In a June 15 column, Doblin urged the board to reconsider. “The best secretaries have institutional history. They do their jobs not for the money, but for the love of the school … School secretaries were the heart and soul of every school I attended. That was true in lower grades. It even was true in college. There is something very wrong if they are the only things left to cut from a budget. If you don’t have enough money to pay the mortgage at home, you don’t get rid of a family member. It’s not an option.”

The next Englewood board meeting is June 28. The outcome could have major ramifications statewide, as other districts watch closely to see if the board can push its outsourcing scheme through, even in the face of mounting community opposition.

Englewood’s plan to outsource secretaries is a “pretty new move,” Joe Cheff, president of the Passaic County Education Association told The Record. “First were the bus drivers, then cafeteria workers, then custodians,” he said. “There never seems to be enough.”