Phoenixville schools may outsource some IT positions

A flyer making the rounds online protesting a potential outsourcing move the Phoenixville Area School District is mulling. Nothing is yet set in stone. Submitted

PHOENIXVILLE — The Phoenixville Area School District is considering outsourcing some of its IT help to a firm in Virginia.

Phoenixville Executive Director of Operations Stan Johnson said nothing is set in stone, but the disrict put out a request for proposal earlier this year that yielded several offers. The district is now discussing with Richmond, Va.-based DominionTek what services it would want and under what terms.

“What we’re looking at is what’s the best way to provide the technicians’ service with high-quality technicians, with faster service (and) with a minimum of backlog tickets,” said Johnson.

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Effectively, Johnson said they hope to free up some IT personnel on the ground in Phoenixville to handle hardware problems while the outsourced positions would work on network problems like simple computer lock-outs from afar.

The goal is to reduce the time it takes for a service “ticket” to be processed to under 24 hours, he said, as well as lower the need for “return visits” and extra tickets for the same problem.

Opponents of the move say going with DominionTek would eliminate “four members of our school community,” according to a flyer circulating on the internet.

With the district negotiating with both DominionTek and the union representing the IT workers in Phoenixville, the number of positions which might be outsourced and what it will cost in total remains very fluid, according to Johnson.

Currently, the union representing the technical workers, the Phoenixville Educational Support Personnel Association (nicknamed Big PESPA since two organizations with the same name exist), does not have a president and could not be reached for comment as of posting.

The flyer warned that outsourcing is risky.

“A good deal at first becomes a long-term nightmare when renegotiated several years from now,” said the flyer, which was not signed.

It’s not clear if the flyer was put out by the IT workers’ union or not.

Additionally, the flyer alleges that DominionTek’s employees are not held to as high of qualifications as current district staff. It also says that the company has a high rate of employee turnover.

Five different companies made up the pool of responders to the request for proposal from which DominionTek was ultimately chosen.

“As it turns out, DominionTek’s proposal would result in some economic savings for the district,” Johnson said. “We had a two-part goal: improve service and lower costs. We believe it will certainly lower costs and the amount it will lower costs is somewhat fluid.

Although the exact total of DominionTek’s proposal wasn’t immediately available and the dollar figure could change depending on negotiations, the flyer protesting DominionTek said IT personnel “plans to make a proposal that is $30,000 less than DominionTek’s offer in the first year alone.”

“It comes in $20,000 less than DominionTek for the additional two years,” of the contract, the flyer continued.

What exactly that plan would entail is unclear.

The flyer called for a show of support for the IT department at Monday night’s school board meeting. The audience was largely empty and the school board did not discuss DominionTek in the regular meeting, nor a personnel committee meeting that preceded it.

Negotiations are ongoing with the IT workers’ union, but any change is not expected for the 2014-15 school year or its budget. Anything which might occur is scheduled for the 2015-16 school year, barring some sort of “impasse,” Johnson said.

In such an event, a state fact-finder would likely get involved and tell the district and union whether or not outsourcing can be done or to what degree it could be implemented.

As things stand now, Johnson said nothing is set in stone.

“The technology world is changing very rapidly,” Johnson said. “What we believe the outsourcers provides us is the ability to provide people with upgraded technical skill on a regular basis. That’s how they make their money: to provide good technological service. That’s what the private sector is doing and that’s what we believe we should at least look at. We’re not sure we want to go that way.”

Check out a Twitter recap of Monday night’s school board meeting.

Follow Frank Otto on Twitter @fottojourno