Word has been spreading across San Antonio ISD that district leaders are moving to privatize non-teaching services across the district.
Outsourcing school services has long been a technique of school privatizers, and the results for students, communities, and, of course, employees themselves have been uniformly terrible.
Why would district leaders be looking to outsource school services to private businesses?
The idea fits with two pillars of the current leadership’s policy agenda - running schools like businesses, and providing opportunities for private corporations to profit from taxpayer funds earmarked for serving San Antonio children.
One thing’s for sure - the decision to contract-out public services to private businesses is just the latest example of district leadership making decisions without meaningful consultation with stakeholders across the district. It’s yet another example of absurdly unpopular district leaders making decisions for, rather than with, the people they’re meant to serve.
Outsourcing is often sold to the public as a means to save money - competitors for contracts offer the same level of service at lower cost to school districts - though those benefits rarely manifest in real life. Privatization of support services will likely lead to cost cutting, inferior services, and, certainly, worse working conditions for workers.
As the 2014 study "Race To The Bottom: How Outsourcing Public Services Rewards Corporations and Punishes the Middle Class" details:
A 2009 study by Mary McCain of the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University studied the effects of outsourcing on contracted food service workers in K-12 public schools in the state of New Jersey. She found that contractors, including Aramark, Sodexo, and Compass, cut cafeteria workers’ wages by $4-6 an hour following the privatization of food service. As one of the workers interviewed for the report explained, “When [a private contractor] took over, it was $8 an hour to start… 10 years [later] and it’s still only $8/hour.”
The report continues:
Following outsourcing, most of the workers completely lost or received very few health insurance benefits from private contractors, leaving them either uninsured or enrolled in state public health insurance programs. In fact, during this time period food service contractors had among the highest levels of employees and their children enrolled in New Jersey FamilyCare, the state’s Medicaid program.
Privatizing or "outsourcing" public sector jobs consistently results in lower wages for working people, more precarious working conditions, and reduced levels of staffing (which means more work for each worker). It results in decreased benefits, worse pension provisions, and higher reliance on social welfare programs.
Privatization hurts workers. It's as simple as that.
Why would we want this for our colleagues and neighbors?
We don't. But privatizing public services has never been about efficiency. It's always been a means to exploit public funding for private profit. And workers are forced to pay for the greed of those who stand to profit from their suffering.
Custodians, food service workers, bus drivers, and school support personnel are the lifeblood of any school district. They perform crucial work without which our communities would grind to a halt, and they should be valued, respected, and compensated fairly for their work.
But the real genius of outsourcing support service jobs across the district is that it serves a union-busting function by undermining and reducing the capacity of a wall-to-wall union to organize. We’ll see anti-union practices become the norm in SAISD schools as profit-seeking companies attempt to discourage employees from organizing together to improve their working conditions - the only reliable route to better pay and benefits for working people.
We’ve already seen a move towards such a model with the charter incursion underway across the district. At Stewart Elementary (now staffed overwhelmingly by new teachers and Teach For America Core Members), and CAN Academy, non-unionized staff face more precarious working conditions, fewer protections, and less job security.
It's the model that the big money, billionaire school privatizers have in mind for all of us. They're starting with classified and support staff, but their sights are set on teachers too.
And this matters for everyone. As the 2014 report explains:
A growing body of evidence and industry wage data suggest an alarming trend: outsourcing public services sets off a downward spiral in which reduced worker wages and benefits can hurt the local economy and overall stability of middle and working class communities. By paying family-supporting wages and providing important benefits such as health insurance and sick leave, governments historically created intentional “ladders of opportunity” to allow workers and their families to reach the middle class. This is especially true for women and African Americans for whom the public sector has been a source of stable middle-class careers. Low-road government contracts reverse this dynamic.
One thing’s for sure - the decision to contract-out public services to private businesses is just the latest example of SAISD leadership making decisions without meaningful consultation with stakeholders across the district. It’s yet another example of absurdly unpopular district leaders making decisions for, rather than with, the people they’re meant to serve.
And it has to stop.