More than likely, the Carlisle Area School District will continue to outsource its teaching aids even after its contract with ESS expires next June, Superintendent Colleen Friend said last week.
The business office recently calculated how much it would cost to bring each assistant back as a district employee eligible for district benefits, including retirement.
“It’s not something we’re considering,” Friend said. “That’s a swing of about $30,000 per person. With our budget, we cannot accommodate this. I think contracting is the best decision for our budget.
The district plans to employ 112 aides in the 2022-23 year, compared to 98 budgeted aides in 2021-22, she said. Using the $30,000 estimate, it would cost approximately $3,360,000 to convert what are now contract workers to district employees.
The district plans to keep its options open about whether to renew its contract with ESS or find another supplier.
People also read…
“We have a good working relationship with ESS,” Friend said. “They’re extremely responsive with us, but whenever a contract comes up, we look around and see what’s going on.”
Each year, the district contributes money to the Pennsylvania Public Schools Employee Retirement System. In an effort to contain rising costs, the school board in 2019 approved an administration recommendation to outsource all of its general education and special education teaching aids.
In July, local parent Aaron Knapp asked the council to investigate the impact of a shortage of teaching aids on special education students and teachers.
“It has been several years now since the district made the decision to outsource special education aide positions,” Knapp said. “I would like the board to provide information regarding the number of aide positions budgeted in the district and the number of aide positions not filled. These vacancies do not appear to be evenly distributed across school buildings. I have seen the impact of this on my child and others have expressed similar experiences.
It has been difficult lately for public schools to recruit enough people, he said. “This challenge appears to be exacerbated by the district’s actions to outsource aide positions.”
Knapp also wanted to know what steps the district is taking in the short term to ensure special education students in 2022-23 don’t continue to suffer from what he called underresources.
“Last year we had 98 assistants in the district,” Friend said. “At the end of the school year, we finished with 26 vacancies. Seven of them were in special education and 19 of them in mainstream education. This year, we will have 112 help positions and currently we have 40 positions that are not filled. Fifteen of them are special education [instructional aides].”
To help with recruitment, ESS has stepped up its advertising and joined the Carlisle area chamber of commerce, Friend said. “They are working to fill those positions.”
Additionally, the district increased its per diem rate from $81.60 for severance assistance to $90 per day, Friend said. “We also have an incentive going on right now.”
The district has its own four-day training program for teacher assistants. As part of the program, interns are encouraged to attend professional development courses from August 16-19. If they complete the course, their daily rate increases to $95.
The training is divided into separate streams for elementary school teacher assistants and secondary school teacher assistants. Both tracks include strategies for de-escalation, behavior management, autism support, and literacy support through content areas.
“We recognize that not all of our assistants can attend all four days,” Friend said, citing summer vacation scheduling conflicts. “For those who can’t do all four days, they will have the option of doing makeup training and possibly getting that $95 rate.
“We want assistants to understand how important they are to our teachers, our students, and our district,” she said. “It’s a little extra money in their pocket, but it also makes them feel like they have a sense of belonging and teamwork.”
In 2022-23, the district plans to withdraw mainstream education aides to fill temporary vacancies in its special education coverage, said Jill Condo, director of student services.
“Our directors are very creative with schedules and maximizing the staff they have so that’s what we need for coverage,” Condo said.
Joseph Cress is a reporter for The Sentinel covering education and history. You can reach him at [email protected] or by calling 717-218-0022.