There are people who use disasters and crises to profit and laborers need to be watchful against attempts to privatize their work now during the pandemic when education budgets are being slashed.
Tim Barchak, organizer, lobbyist and policy analyst with National Education Association, issued that warning during NYSUT’s 2020 School-Related Professionals leadership conference, held online this year.
Privatizers can ignore benefits — such as sick days and health care — vital to keeping workplaces healthy and safe during the pandemic.
“If there’s an outbreak of COVID-19 we want to know if an employee is feeling ill,” Barchak said. However, if employees feel pressured to work or don’t have sick days, they may be less likely to disclose. “Privatizers literally put our students and teachers in danger. As an association, we need to stop mincing words and say it that way.”
In challenging times, “we need more transparency and public accountability,” he said. “The community and school district should be as committed to SRPs as they are to students.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is a time to recognize how essential SRP’s are, Barchak said.
Privatization often leads to a combination of business practices that will make a school community less safe, he said, including a workforce that can be less stable due to temporary job seekers, and workers not as committed to the school population.
SRPs are not the only school workforce at risk.
Recently, the Newburgh Teachers Association won a Public Employment Relations Board ruling upholding its opposition to the ongoing privatization of school social workers.
Stacy Moran, Newburgh TA president, explained that during an economic crisis in 2012–13, the district lost social workers and school psychologists. A community schools grant brought in subcontracted social workers through the Orange County Department of Mental Health for three years; the psychologists were not replaced.
“Clinical staffing was reduced by five clinicians, resulting in a total of 15 school psychologists and social workers for over 11,000 students,” Moran said. Elementary, middle and high school students were affected.
By the time the three-year grant program was up, Moran said, the district was in better financial shape to bring back the bargaining unit social workers but has failed to do so to the staffing level that existed prior to 2012.
“We put them on notice that we did not agree to use the subcontracted workers,” Moran said. The union filed an improper practice charge in December 2017. This year, the TA won a PERB case to eliminate the use of the subcontracted social workers and return the work to bargaining unit personnel. The district is appealing.
The subcontracting of these social workers is concerning for several reasons, Moran explained, with the key concern being that their services were limited only to students who had health insurance.
“In a district like Newburgh, that cuts out so many students,” she said.
Get your story out
When fighting against the threat of privatization, Barchak said, it’s important for those working in education to ensure that school boards, parents and the public understand how vital their roles are.
- Attend monthly school board meetings; become recognized names and faces.
- Let stakeholders such as BOE, PTA and other parent groups know the types of work you and your colleagues perform.
- Ask board members and legislators to job shadow for a day.