Support staff protestors

St. Marys Area School District support staff workers, including secretaries and children’s aides, gathered outside the high school in protest on May 13.

ST. MARYS — The St. Marys Area School Board is under fire for its decision to seek subcontracting proposals for support staff.

Groups of district employees gathered outside St. Marys Area High School in protest Monday prior to attending the monthly board meeting.

Subcontracting caused heated feelings among all parties in the meeting, starting with Superintendent Brian Toth stating he and the board have allegedly been disrespected and ridiculed based on “false information.”

Support staff workers, including secretaries and children’s aides, held bright yellow signs and claimed SMASD is trying to “outsource” them.

Toth’s presentation listed the history of the first support-staff contract, including raises for secretaries and aides given in the past three years, and healthcare contributions. After the support staff voted to unionize in May 2017, the district received the first proposal in January 2018. SMASD made subcontracting a mandatory subject of bargaining March 2018.

Several meetings between the union and the district were cancelled or rescheduled before “sidebar” meetings took place, but nothing was resolved. According to Toth, the union started negotiating in a public forum using the local newspaper on April 27, 2019, therefore “inciting fear” and panic in the school community.

Pennsylvania State Education Association representative Lucy Harlow, one of the alleged information sources according to Toth, was in attendance and voiced strong opinions on the negatives of subcontracting, saying it “devalues jobs.”

Harlow also said corporate entities involved in subcontracting are solely out to make money.

Due to public statements reportedly made by Harlow and support staff president Michele Burdick, Toth said he feels he and the board have been “thrown under the bus, and ran over a couple of times.”

“This is not the St. Marys I’ve known and supported for the last five years, not at all,” he said.

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Board member Bert Sorg also said he felt personally attacked by Harlow’s public statements.

“I feel I’ve made some good decisions on this board,” said Sorg. “I’ve lived here all my life and volunteered in many organizations. I’m proud to work with these people. They all have one thing in common — to do good.”

According to Toth’s SMASD board update, no worker was ever threatened with termination or will lose their job. The board plans to negotiate with subcontracting companies, and salaries will not decrease, but will also be negotiated. Subcontracting will save the underfunded district money, he said.

It’s not in the district’s plans to subcontract long-time employees, Toth said, adding that those will also get to keep their retirement and healthcare benefits. Support-staff subcontracting will be done through attrition.

“We want to work with our staff,” he said. “We value everything they do.”

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