Schools to spend up to $2.1 million on temps
Abacus agency to provide as many as 195 support positions
St. Mary’s school board members approved at their Aug. 30 meeting to spend up to $2.1 million annually with Abacus Corp. based in Baltimore. The contract brings in an estimated 195 temporary school employees for positions such as substitute food service staff and paraeducators.
The $2.1 million “is an estimated cost assuming that all 195 were employed for a specified number of hours during the year, their applicable rate of pay” and a temporary service fee of 26.5 percent, Tammy McCourt, public schools’ assistant superintendent of fiscal services and human resources, said in an email Monday.
“We started contracting out our temporary services in 2012,” Director of Human Resources Dale Farrell said at the Aug. 30 meeting. He said the contract occurred when the Affordable Care Act went into effect, and school staff “had to figure out how to comply … and provide services to students and schools.”
The average number of temporary staff in any school building “would be very skewed, as many of the after-school programs, which are only located at a handful of schools, are supported by Abacus staff,” McCourt continued.
Abacus employees fill positions such as computer support specialist assistants, substitute bus attendants, enhanced support providers and paraeducators as well as substitute
safety and security assistants, substitute food service workers and substitute building service workers, McCourt said.
“For most of these positions, it is not financially prudent to hire permanent school district employees, as they are filing a temporary gap in service to support our full time positions,” she said.
Education Association of St. Mary’s County President Jill Morris said last week she and other members don’t support hiring temporary workers, although she acknowledged that hiring full-time employees can be expensive.
Staff who are “fully invested and engaged are better for the students,” she said, adding that staff would then have a better sense of belonging to the school community.
Morris said school staff and education association members have engaged in ongoing conversations about the need for temporary workers, and she credits McCourt’s work of “not trying to continue these positions.” The union president said hiring 33 new full-time staff in the last budget cycle was progress in the right direction.
For positions including those who help students with spe- cial needs, “the number of students requiring these services may vary from year to year,” McCourt said. An Abacus employee has the opportunity to use the position as “a stepping stone to future full-time employment within our department of special education,” she said.
Morris said hiring full time staff is “a better, long-term investment” instead of hiring temporary staff. She said it’s important to “buy into the bigger picture of investing in the kids … and the safety and security of the kiddos.”
Abacus employees go through background checks, as coordinated with the schools’ department of safety and security, McCourt said.
Qualifications vary for the different positions, such as a computer support specialist assistant position requiring a high school diploma and six months of IT experience, or a paraeducator II requiring an associate’s degree or “Para Pro certification,” she said.
Hiring Abacus staff can help spread school budget dollars further because the staffing would occur on an as-needed basis, McCourt said.
She said there “is no perma- nent commitment being offered by either party,” but can result in “the understandable turnover of temporary staff from year to year.”
Abacus requested a 26.5 percent markup to cover expenses such as insurance, employee training and background checks, Victoria Mayle, public schools’ procurement coordinator, said at the board meeting.
Board member Jim Davis said the 26.5 percent markup is “quite low, very low.”
“Actually it’s lower than it was in recent years,” Mayle said. “We were paying 27.12 percent. When there is competition in the marketplace they sharpened their pencils and brought it down for us.”