by Susan Turk

[Note:  This is part a series of group messages discussing the SLPS and outsourcing]

I just read through most of this week’s messages last night and then slept on them, metaphorically, that is. In my ruminations, I was reminded that most of the SLPS [St Louis Public Schools] employees who jobs were outsourced to Sodexho and Aramark were American citizens and African-Americans. When their jobs were outsourced, in most cases they were given first crack at doing the job they had been as a district employee but for less money and benefits. If, as in the case of the stationary engineers, they were unionized, they kept their pay and benefits for a while.  But those jobs were eventually cut. That union went to court to sue to get their jobs back and won and the district is still refusing to rehire them but that’s an aside to the main point I want to make which is this.

Some of the employees whose jobs were outsourced were also parents of SLPS students. Some of them stayed with their new lower paying jobs. Others left to seek higher paying jobs elsewhere, that is jobs paying what they were used to making, not necessarily more. Regardless, their social and economically stability was jolted. They weren’t making a lot of money to begin with but it was a living wage with health care and paid vacation which afforded their families some stability. 

When I used to tutor at my neighborhood school, I got to know what life was like for the kids. I was able to meet and befriend many of their parents. I learned that contrary to the commonly held view that our free and reduced lunch students were from “welfare” families, at least at my neighborhood school, all of their parents or guardians– a lot of them lived with grandparents– were working. As a matter of fact all of them were working more than one job to make ends meet. Some of them were working three jobs, a full time weekday job, a second part-time weekday evening job and a weekend part-time job. In one case a student’s mother worked 4 part-time jobs to support her 5 kids. In many cases these kids came from families where there were 2 parents in stable marriages and both parents were working more than one job to provide for their families.

Getting a hold of these parents to talk to them about their kids was not easy.  They weren’t home much. When the food service, custodial and grounds keeping jobs were outsourced to Sodexho and Aramark, some SLPS students were directly affected but either a reduction in their standard of living or a reduction in the time they saw their parents or both. Economic well-being affects academic achievement. Parental involvement affects student achievement.

I serve on the steering committee for a developing local education coalition that intends to create community wide support for the SLPS. One of the members of this steering committee represents Civic Progress. At a recent meeting, I remarked to her that if Civic Progress wanted to really help improve academic achievement in the SLPS, they could start by paying their service employees a living wage so that they could support their families on one job and have time to spend with their kids.

  The woman melted down. You could almost see the steam emanating from her ears as she passionately lectured me about how artificially inflating wages didn’t solve social problems. Research has found that the economic well-being of a student affects their level of academic achievement and parental involvement affects their achievement as well.  Yet the large corporations who run this town, who control our economy and who supported the Roberti (Alvarez and Marshall) administration, the Slay and Black Leadership Roundtable slate, and the state takeover and imposition of Rick Sullivan, and BLR officers Richard Gaines and Melanie Adams on the SLPS,insist our schools do a better job of educating children whose economic well-being they have destabilized. They insist that our public schools can raise academic achievement while they themselves take actions that undermine the economic and social stability of the families whose children attend our schools. That is the mythos by which these powerful people operate. And it’s not just here in St. Louis. This is happening across the country. The outsourcing movement is affecting families who formerly had jobs that would support their families. And the schools their children attend are being told that if they just do the right thing and hire outside (outsourced) accountability consultants and buy the right outsourced curriculum and the right outsourced evaluation soft-ware and implement it all the right way, that blood can be squeezed from rocks. Academic achievement can rise while wages and benefits drop and parents have to be made to spend more time helping their children no matter how many jobs they are working to provide the basic necessities of life in this new economy. I guess they don’t have to sleep.

  I heard the presentation on the district’s plan to improve academic achievement that Dr. B[ourisaw] was forced to give at the SOB [State Advisory Board] meeting Thursday night.  It must have a been a bit humiliating for her to have to sing and dance for the SOB but she knows the buzz-words and did a pretty good job of saying the right things–because she knows what she has to say and do to assuage the power elite but Gaines, who is the only member of the SAB who knows anything about the SLPS and is actually qualified to sit on that board, caught her on the one component that she left out…parental involvement. He wanted to know what the administration was going to do to build meaningful parental involvement into their plan.

  I wonder what he pays the people who clean his office.

  Outsourcing affects the economic and social well-being of some of the children who attend our schools. When the bottom drops out for their families, the resultant stress affects their academic achievement. While tutoring, I have listened to their fears and seen the affect it has on kids who wonder where they are going to be living next month. When they don’t see their parents who are working all the time, they latch on to any adult who will serve as a surrogate parent. Tutors and mentors can do a lot to supplement parents who are missing in the lives of their children but we can’t put dinner on the table and we can’t tuck them in at night.

  And our accreditation hangs on balancing this impossible equation. As the economic and social underpinnings of our students families are destroyed, this school district is being told it has to make those MSIP standards.

  Yes there are added unquantified costs to outsourcing. It all comes full circle.