Good Work Pays Off as School Board Rejects Privatization

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San Antonio school operations and maintenance workers, including bus drivers and cafeteria staff, avoided having their jobs outsourced when their school board on Jan. 27 voted down a proposal to explore privatization for the cash-strapped Texas district.

About 200 allies and members of the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel turned out for the board meeting, many sporting stickers that read "Say no to privatization!"

Outsourcing not only would fail to save money but also would cost employees their hard-earned rights and benefits, alliance president Shelley Potter told the board. Typically, private companies negotiate good prices at the beginning, she explained, but jack up costs later, after the district has lost the capacity to provide services on its own.

"These are our kids, and we will take care of them," Potter said. "It's easy to make a buck. It's harder to make a difference."

Terry Armstrong, classified personnel representative for the alliance, credits the union with educating the school trustees. "I can't stress enough the importance of our political action committee," he says. "It's what allows us to communicate directly with board members, other elected officials and community action groups."

Education advocates still have a tough road ahead, Armstrong adds, given the fact that more than 80 percent of the school budget goes to salaries, and the system is facing a budget shortfall of up to 15 percent, or at least $50 million.

The board last week also took a pass on cutting 130 administrative jobs in the curriculum department. School administrators warned that if something isn't done soon to address the funding gap, pink slips will follow. San Antonio, along with other districts in Texas and across the nation, is facing deficits in state tax revenues because of the weak economy and gradually diminishing federal stimulus money. [Annette Licitra]

February 1, 2011