TUSD halts plan to investigate job outsourcing

2013-02-13T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T08:47:07Z TUSD halts plan to investigate job outsourcingAlexis Huicochea Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 13, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Tucson's largest school district has put the brakes on even considering outsourcing a number of functions as a way to close an impending budget deficit.

Instead, TUSD will work with employee groups and departments over the next month to see if they can come up with viable options that would keep those services in-house.

The Governing Board expects to vote again on whether to explore outsourcing at its March 12 meeting.

The reversal is the result of a change of heart by one new governing board member, Cam Juarez, who just two weeks ago voted to give the Tucson Unified School District direction to explore the possibility of outsourcing in the areas of operations, custodians, ground maintenance, transportation, human resources, payroll, benefits and technology operations.

That option was presented to the board Jan. 29 as one possible solution to help TUSD bridge a $17 million budget shortfall for the upcoming school year.

Juarez supported the move, along with TUSD Governing Board members Mark Stegeman and Michael Hicks. Board President Adelita Grijalva and Clerk Kristel Ann Foster opposed the measure.

He has since changed his mind, saying he would much rather work in collaboration with employees than hold the threat of outsourcing over their heads.

Even though Juarez's previous vote did not specifically give the district the green light to outsource, he said he now believes considering it is dangerous.

Juarez now argues, much like Grijalva did when the issue was first being discussed, that in presenting offers to TUSD, vendors may offer "incredible deals" for the first year of service and then significantly increase the cost of service in later years.

He added that if TUSD is not satisfied with the level of service, it may be costly to reinstate services in-house.

While Juarez is exercising his right to reconsider the vote, he does not expect this to become a regular occurrence.

"This vote was kind of tough. We moved really fast," Juarez said. "The former board moved fast on the school closures, and as a current member, in talking to schools impacted, I realize that we need to spend more time talking with folks on the ground.

"I don't think that outsourcing at this juncture is in our best interest."

Juarez also expressed concern about the fact some of the outsourced positions, like custodians and bus drivers, have direct contact with students.

"It's a slippery slope and if we are not careful, we could save now but the cost may be steeper down the road financially and with the safety of our students," he said.

Juarez did say, however, that if employees do not come forward with satisfactory options in time, he may be open to considering outsourcing again.

In arguing in support of considering outsourcing, Stegeman reminded his fellow board members that there will be cuts to other positions to include teachers, counselors, librarians and administrators.

"We have a fixed number of dollars, and every dollar we spend in operations is a dollar we can't invest in teachers, class size or the classroom," Stegeman said at the Jan. 29 meeting. "I don't know how we can say to the community we didn't even let staff look at this."

TUSD Chief Financial Officer Yousef Awwad noted he has been working with employee groups all along and the recommendations that have come from those talks are not substantial, focusing on reducing central administration and eliminating the district office complex, but not necessarily taking cuts within their own departments.

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at ahuicochea@azstarnet.com or 573-4175. On Twitter @AlexisHuicochea.

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