- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The St. Mary’s school board voted 4-to-1 Wednesday to move about 250 contractual employees to a temp agency.
The part-time employees include some paraeducators (but not permanent kindergarten paraeducators), maintenance workers, bus drivers, food service workers and secretaries who are hired on as-needed basis generally to work with specific students’ needs or to fill in for injured employees who are unable to work.
Greg Nourse, assistant superintendent of fiscal services and human resources, said that a letter has been developed to send to the workers informing them of the change. Those interested in continuing their work through the temporary agency will be required to attend meetings with the school system’s human resources department and the temporary agency lasting about an hour; the workers will be paid for attending.
“None of them will lose their jobs, providing they’re in good standing with the school system,” Nourse said.
Ed O’Meally, the school board’s attorney, said that this move does not include any public school employees who are eligible for membership in the school system’s unions.
“It fluctuates on the needs of the children we serve,” O’Meally said of the number of employees hired under temporary contracts.
He said that it does include employees who are hired on as-needed basis, such as a special education assistant hired to work one-on-one with a student, sometimes for the entire school year.
Superintendent Michael Martirano said that when the school system hires temporary workers directly, as it has in the past, tension arises when trying to stay within the confines of Maryland law, which prohibits the school system from keeping a temporary worker on for more than nine months of the year.
In addition, any employees who work more than 500 hours a year are eligible for the state’s pension system. A recent audit found that the St. Mary’s school system was in violation when one temporary bus driver worked more than the allowed 500 hours within a year.
Because of that audit finding, the school system must now undergo an annual personnel audit for hourly employees to check for compliance. The audit will be paid for by the Maryland State Pension Agency for the next two years, but by fiscal year 2015 the school system will have to pick up the bill of $12,000 to $15,000 a year, Nourse said.
Marilyn Crosby, board vice chair, who earlier in the meeting said the move to the temp agency was needed because the school system was out of compliance with state law, said she did not believe the school board was given enough time to review the change. She cast the lone vote against approving the change.
“We are not out of compliance,” Martirano said. “We are trying to maintain a level of compliance.”
O’Meally agreed, saying the school system has been compliant with the state education law.
The contract was awarded to Abacus, based in Baltimore. The company has an office in Great Mills, not in Leonardtown as previously reported, Nourse said.
Board member Brooke Matthews said that the board rejected the lowest bid because that company does not have a local office.
“They weren’t close enough or convenient enough,” Matthews said. “It’s different from what our norm is, but we have to roll with it.”
Nourse said using the temporary worker service will cost the school system about an extra $120,000 a year. Some of the 25 percent markup paid by the school system to Abacus will be used to pay for Social Security, worker’s compensation insurance and other administrative costs. The entire contract is estimated at $1.6 million per year.
Nourse said it would cost the school system between $2.5 million and $4 million a year to transfer all of those employees to permanent jobs with the school system.
Board member Mary Washington asked if the temporary workers could apply for a permanent job with the school system even while they were employed by Abacus.
Nourse said yes, that was built into the contract.
“Maybe I will get a chance to read the contract in its entirety and some of my questions would be answered,” Washington said.
Board member Cathy Allen said that she would be more comfortable with the new arrangement if the temporary workers had been told about the change at the end of last school year.
“That said, we are where we are,” Allen said. “Inaction is not an option.” The school year begins Aug. 22.
Allen said that the school superintendent and staff need to communicate better with the school board before actions are brought forward.
Martirano agreed, and said that it would have been better to spend more time on the subject.
“I think a lot of minds have been set at ease,” Sal Raspa, board chair, said. “Yes, there’s going to be some problems from time to time. We’re in the human being business.”