Work stopapge

Justin Strawser/The Daily Item

Members Shikellamy Education Support Professionals Association (SESPA) picket outside of the school district's administration building this morning.

The head of Shikellamy’s support staff union is unsure how many soon-to-be-former employees will reapply for their positions.

Superintendent Jason Bendle said Thursday the process of mapping out staffing will begin soon.

Bendle said all 63 employees furloughed Wednesday night will be offered interviews. ESS, the New Jersey-based company hired by the school board Thursday night to subcontract professional services to the district, has not responded to questions about the hiring process, including who will be the local representative conducting interviews.

“The process will start in the next few days and will take place over the course of the next few weeks,” Bendle said Thursday.

School Directors Jenna Eister-Whitaker, Lori Garman and Dave Persing voted against outsourcing, while Directors Wendy Wiest, Jennifer Wetzel, Gretchen Walters, Mike Erb, Slade Shreck and Jeff Balestrini all voted in favor of the move.

“We are now out of jobs,” Shikellamy Education Support Professionals Association (SESPA) President Jody Kovaschetz said. “It’s a shame that this has happened.”

Kovaschetz said her 23-year career at Shikellamy will end July 1, pending any court filings by the union. She said the union has an arbitration hearing scheduled for September on the issue that directors accepted bids for the outside agency, which was allegedly in violation of the union’s contract.

In February, the district received a proposal to subcontract the professional services, which board members originally said would be $725,000 cheaper than what the district pays to the union employees, according to district officials.

The contract issue began in 2019 and got progressively worse as directors released a timeline of events that outlined negotiation meetings and an offer by the board to increase the maximum starting wage from $14.50 an hour to $15.

The district also said it lowered the target savings needed for the union to keep work in-house to $2.5 million over five years.

Directors tasked the union with meeting that savings amount or agreeing to subcontract the services.

The union said it was impossible to find the money because workers would have to take pay cuts.

Kovaschetz said school board members weren’t telling the public the truth about why the union keeps rejecting offers. Removing the no-subcontracting clause, giving up a right to file a grievance, finding a way for the union to give back the money and health care benefit reductions were issues that neither union nor the district budged on, she said.

Business Manager Brian Manning said the district paid $2.047 million to the support staff.

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