Academic journal article Education

The Financial and Political Impacts of Labor-Outsourcing in Rural School Districts

Academic journal article Education

The Financial and Political Impacts of Labor-Outsourcing in Rural School Districts

Article excerpt

As the nation continues to struggle with the financial calamities of the "Great Recession", businesses and government agencies have engaged in a frenzy of cost-cutting measures.

A major business-related practice that has been initiated to cut costs is outsourcing many labor intensive programs. School districts have also jumped onto the outsourcing bandwagon. Custodians, cooks, bus drivers, substitute teachers, technology facilitators, and even superintendents who were at one time employed by local school districts are in many instances now secured through outsourcing agencies (Sanders, 1998).

While the idea to save money has created a new paradigm in the 'education labor market', this new dynamic has had implications far beyond the simple idea of cost-cutting. For many rural school districts, that are their city or county's largest employer, costs have been cut, but political fallout has resulted. Buckley and Burch (2011) noted the following as a result of outsourcing initiatives in public schools:

   ... private engagement is not only altering the delivery of
   education, but also participating in the reshaping of the politics
   of education.. .both for-profit and nonprofit organizations are
   engaging politically at both the national and local level. What
   needs to be understood better is not only the nature of such
   political activity, but also how this activity is altering the role
   of long-standing political actors from unions to civic groups. Who
   is being empowered? Whose voices are being silenced (p. 247)?"

When outsourcing occurs, former typical service-type employees such as cooks, custodians, and bus-drivers no longer are employees of the school district. These individuals still have the same performance expectations, but as far as employment is concerned, they now 'belong' to a contracted entity. This has had an enormous impact on the relationship between communities and their school districts. Kennedy (2009) refers to this as "moving a task or process across a firm boundary. This is the basic 'make-or-buy' decision. The activity being outsourced is typically considered noncore to the business or involves some specialized skill. Because contracts are involved, it is extremely important that performance levels can be specified and monitored (p. 1)."

When considering outsourcing, school districts must look simply beyond cost-cutting. A question that usually emerges is whether or not performance of the outsourced labor-force will be suitable or equal to that of former employees. Will they perform as well and have the same expectations of former employees or will it be a situation of them being someone else's employment problem? Malek (2000) emphasized the following essentials if outsourcing is going to be successful:

1. The need to establish measurable goals and objectives,

2. The need to ensure that both parties benefit from the relationship,

3. The willingness to maintain mutual respect and to learn from each other,

4. The involvement of senior management,

5. The discipline to continually track and measure performance and provide feedback (p. 72).

According to Jones (2008), the St. Louis, Missouri School District encountered significant disappointment and problems when the urban school district totally outsourced its services:

   Public officials whose place was at the top of the table tended to
   worry day-to-day about resources that they needed to perform their
   jobs. Because of the centralization of decision making for the
   budget, curriculum and personnel, teachers in the classroom lacked
   basic supplies to conduct instruction. School principals, lacking
   the authority to make budget decisions, were largely unaware of how
   to govern their schools from a human, fiscal and material
   standpoint. For example, resources to support educational field
   trips during the day were eliminated without consultation with
   teachers in the district. … 
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