OEA Fends Off Privatization

District Sought to Outsource Teaching Jobs

The Omaha Education Association stood for children, taxpayers and members through the late months of 2016 as it turned back an effort by the Omaha Public Schools to privatize jobs connected to the district’s transitional program for middle school students.

At risk were OPS tax dollars, the quality of education of OPS middle school students, and several dozen OPS teaching jobs.

School district officials had proposed to use a “contract variance” that would have allowed the District to privatize instructional services – including bargaining unit jobs – in the “Transitional Program” for middle school students across the district.

The OPS Transitional Program serves students who have experienced behavioral difficulties in traditional classroom settings.

OEA President Bridget Donovan said the OEA’s Board of Directors believed privatizing the program’s teaching positions would have been an abrogation of the District’s responsibility to patrons and students. She noted that the district’s teachers “recognize and accept the grave responsibility we have as public school educators in working to teaching all students.

“The OEA is opposed to ‘outsourcing’ the responsibility of teaching of our students,” said Donovan. “We do not believe it is in the best interests of our students, their parents, our community or taxpayers.  We will not – and cannot in good conscience – sign over the education of the most vulnerable of our students to private profiteers or other private enterprises.”

Outsourcing Failure

Board members felt that outsourcing such a critical function to a private firm might be an easy answer, but it was not the right answer for the District or, more important, for the children involved. Donovan pointed to the hard lesson learned by the State of Nebraska when, in November 2009, the state began to shift responsibility for running the child welfare system to private contractors. State officials believed the plan would make the system more efficient and accountable, while controlling costs.

The privatization of foster care led to untrained, unskilled, poorly paid workers managing children who were state wards. Privatization left children victimized by the very people who were supposed to protect them.

$50 Million Wasted

By the end of six months, one contractor was bankrupt and another ended its contract. A third company soon lost its contract because of financial and management problems, forcing the state to make unplanned infusions of money to keep the program operational.

More than $50 million in taxpayer money was wasted on the failed privatization experiment.

Donovan said OEA believes students, parents, teachers and taxpayers will best be served by focusing on improvements to the current programs as opposed to attempting to contract away the District’s responsibility for these students.

“The OEA stands ready to continue working with District administrators, staff and parents to ensure we are providing our students with the supports they need to succeed and our teachers with the tools they need to help those students succeed,” she said.

“We have the skills, the wisdom, the expertise and, most of all the heart needed to provide excellent programs designed to meet the unique needs of our dynamic, growing urban population.”