Staffing decisions should prioritize connections and stability
In April, without any public discussion, the CH-UH Board of Education (BOE) decided to privatize the before- and after-school programs. The primary reason was economic.
Before- and after-school care is not seen as the school district’s main mission. One could make the case that as long as families have access to before- and after-school care for their children, the district should not have to shoulder the burden of organizing, supervising, staffing and recruiting for the programs at each of our elementary schools.
I believe that discussion with the public prior to the board taking action could have helped determine if there could have been a better solution or confirm that the proposal was best.
Important considerations would include how this decision impacts our staff, our community and our students. Many of these points came up in the public comments part of the May 2 BOE meeting. The staff members who work at our schools before and after the school day have odd schedules. Many start as early as 6:30 a.m. greeting children, and work until the school day starts. At dismissal, many of the same people work until 5:30 or 6 p.m. These district employees are also often hired to work during lunch as aids or in other part-time positions, giving them enough hours to access healthcare benefits.
The company that will now run our before- and after-school programs does not offer benefits because all of its employees will be part time. It claims to pay a higher hourly rate than our staff members currently earn, but there is no guarantee that the company will hire the people who currently run the programs, though staff members were told that they could apply to keep their positions.
If current staff members need healthcare coverage, they will probably not work for the new company. Working for two or three hours per day during lunch will not suffice. It is hard to know who will want to work the lunchrooms or some of the district’s other part-time positions, as healthcare coverage is a big draw to these jobs. Low-paying part-time jobs, no healthcare coverage, and oddball hours will probably not attract many candidates who will provide stability and connections to the community and to families—aspects of the job we should be prioritizing over savings.
Some of the affected staff have worked in the same position for years. They know our families and our students, and many live in the community. Destabilizing these people hurts students and staff members in ways we can only guess.
School security, in contrast, is an area that the BOE is not privatizing, but may end up laying off staff. This move could leave three elementary school buildings with no security monitor, and the middle schools and high school short on security staff.
It may not be in the job description, but security monitors serve as positive models for students, and help provide consistency and routine. Security staff listens and creates relationships, sometimes with kids who do not connect with teachers. Often our security staff is aware of problems bubbling up from over the weekend or from a game the night before. They know which kids to watch out for, and they pay attention to changes in attitude and behavior, often counseling on an informal level or referring students to someone who can help before an issue escalates into a crisis.
In mid-May, district leadership will decide how many security positions to cut. Cutting five of 24 security positions is a drastic change, but district leadership feels differently. I am certain that those in charge do not fully understand nor appreciate the role these staff members play in heading off problems and helping students.
The collective bargaining agreement for security monitors, who are represented by the teachers union, does not allow subcontracting without negotiations. The district cannot just fire all the monitors and hire a company to come in and take over security, although it can cut up to 40 percent per year.
Unfortunately, before- and after-school workers do not have the same subcontracting protection in their contract.
Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.