Lee County School Board Weighs Privatization of Support Personnel

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PHOTO BY JOSH FISHER / FOR THE OPELIKA OBSERVER

By Wil Crews
sportscrews@
opelikaobserver.com

The Lee County Board of Education met for its regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday night and listened to concerns regarding the board’s recent actions to privatize the county’s hiring of custodians, aids and support personnel.

At the last board meeting on May 11, the board entered into a non-binding agreement to no longer directly hire support personnel as public employees, but rather differ all support personnel hiring decisions to Kelly Services, a staffing agency based out of Michigan.

UniServ Director for Alabama Education Services, Izaak Standridge, addressed the board presenting concerns from many county support staff regarding this decision. His concerns were based primarily on the potential loss of and disenrollment in Alabama’s state retirement system. 

“I think the action taken last month was done in good faith, however, I believe a lot of consequences pertaining to that action were not well known,” Standridge said.

He cited how the decision to give hiring control to Kelly Services meant individuals brought on by Kelly were not public employees, and as such these workers will not be entitled to the same benefits and workplace protections that are afforded to other public employees.

“Being a public employee should be seen as a prized position and service to one’s community,” he said. “And as such, [they] should be rewarded by the community for their efforts. Privatization begins to break down that public trust and respect for school employees.”

Standridge further cited how having no state retirement will negatively affect the quality of the employee pool from which Lee County can choose from.

Directly related to that, Standridge cited how support professionals are more likely to live in the communities they serve. If underserved, that will create an avoidable cycle of poverty right here at home.

“They [support personnel] often send their children and grandchildren to our schools,” he said. “If they retire into poverty, their children and grandchildren become a part of that cycle. And in this case, the cycle of poverty was made to no fault of their own, but was made by a decision to privatize.

“When we talk about poverty and student outcomes, let’s remember that our school employees are a part of that equation. And we should do everything in our power to make sure our workers are not subjected to poverty and are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Standbridge then added to his concerns, citing how the agreement with Kelly Services would take away from local tax revenue, directly affecting the quality of public schools.

“Instead of allowing those tax dollars to remain directly in our area, a portion of those funds now go to Kelly Services; they will leave our community and go to Michigan,” he said.

Lastly, Standbridge highlighted the non-expendable roles that support personnel serve in the school system. These roles are often driven by the pride public employees have in their job or their direct association with a private organization.

“Contracted out employees can be like renters, they don’t have the same level of ownership,” he said. “This list I have provided you is only a handful of the unintended consequences that come along when there is a move towards privatization. You do not have to let these unintended consequences become a reality, and we would urge you to end this agreement and help keep our public schools, public.”

Standridge was not the only community speaker to address the board at Tuesday’s meeting. Community leader John Andrew Harris spoke to the board concerning how the federal CARES Act grant money would be dispersed throughout the county.

Harris said he had been approached by multiple community leaders asking him to implore the board to use what he said was $100 million in total funds in a way that would bring all the communities of Lee County together. Harris is hopeful that the allocation of funds would primarily be dispersed to the underserved communities of the area. Harris cited that the funds could help reduce crime, improve economic and education conditions and increase the general quality of life for all citizens in the area. 

“All of the communities should come together with a plan,” he said. “That money, it don’t just really belong to the school board, they are just an overseer of the money. It belongs to the community.”

Other business: 

– The board approved a recommendation to extend Superintendent Dr. Mac McCoy’s contract under the same terms from July 2023 to June 2025.

– The board approved a renewal and extension of the contract of Lee County’s Chief School Financial Officer, Ken Roberts. 

– The board approved field trips for the Smiths Station football and girls’ flag football teams to Columbus, Georgia, on July 21 and 22, respectively.

– The board heard a review of the monthly financial report and cash reconciliation for the month of April from Roberts.

– The board discussed an information item regarding the next steps for the energy savers project that was presented by Schneider Electric at the May 11 meeting.

– The board reviewed the 2020-21 Lee County Schools Seclusion and Restraint Report.

– The board discussed graduation dates for May 2022.

– The board discussed human resource recommendations in an executive session.

The Lee County Board of Education meets for its regularly scheduled meeting on the second Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. at 2410 Society Hill Road in Opelika.

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