- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The Calvert County Board of Education has not made a decision on whether to privatize certain educational support staff jobs from an outside agency, but the Calvert Association of Educational Support Staff is making it known it does not support the idea.
CAESS filed a union grievance with the school board to protest the board’s consideration to privatize certain educational support staff jobs from the ABACUS Corp., a hiring agency from Baltimore currently being used by St. Mary’s County Public Schools.
In March, ABACUS presented to the school board how the company would benefit the school system, by handling part-time and fill-in positions, such as substitute teachers, part-time instructional assistants and temporary building service workers.
ABACUS would serve as the “employer of records,” said Michael Brady, chief operating officer of ABACUS, during the March meeting and would be responsible for safe-school training, payroll, statutory costs for taxes, background and reference checks and health care.
“The real concern we have is the new health care law,” Victoria Karol, acting director of human resources for CCPS, said during the March meeting. “We would have to provide benefits now, which we currently don’t do with this group [of employees].”
During another recent meeting, the board learned of the health care changes the school system will face in the next few years with the Affordable Care Act.
The school system is currently collecting data for 2016, in which the percentage of employees offered health care coverage must increase to 95 percent, said Bridget Scott, who oversees employee benefits with CCPS.
Under the Affordable Care Act, school system employees who would not normally receive health care insurance, such as part-time employees paid by timesheets, will be eligible to receive benefits.
Those employees include substitute teachers, home and hospital teachers, building service workers and instructional assistants, among others, who work 30 or more hours, Karol said during the board’s last meeting in April.
In an effort to relieve CCPS from paying heath care costs for more than 400 part-time employees to whom the school system is not currently giving benefits, Karol referred to hiring ABACUS as a “win-win” during the company’s March presentation.
“The board’s rationale is that under the Affordable Care Act, they have to track employee work hours. The board says they can’t track employee work hours, which is absurd because how else do they pay them?” Joseph Sella, chief negotiator for the Calvert Education Association and CAESS, said. “They’re gonna pay this company a fee per employee when that money could go right to the employee or to the county.”
Sella said having another company serve as “employer of record” violates the school system’s agreement with CAESS, according to the grievance.
“The positions ABACUS may fill are all CAESS bargaining unit jobs and another entity cannot come into CCPS and abrogate our exclusive bargaining unit representative rights or the Agreement. This is a violation of Article 1,” the grievance states.
“Here you have people with no commitment to the kids or the school system. They’re contracted employees,” Sella said in an interview Monday. “It’s a small county. It’s a family, and now you’re going to take part of that family away.”
Nancy V. Highsmith, interim superintendent of Calvert County Public Schools, said Tuesday that the board has not entered an agreement with ABACUS and has only previously listened to a presentation made by the company. Highsmith added the employees ABACUS would be responsible for do not fall under the employees CAESS serves.
“It’s a little bit premature,” Highsmith said regarding the grievance.
St. Mary’s County Public Schools began using ABACUS in August 2012 and said it could move about 250 workers to the temp agency.
At a school board meeting last week, St. Mary’s Superintendent Michael Martirano said the number of contractual employees used by St. Mary’s public schools will be reduced “by a significant amount” as he looks for savings to address a budget deficit this year. It is unclear if St. Mary’s public schools will continue next year to use ABACUS as it has for the previous two years.
Staff writer Jesse Yeatman contributed to this report.