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Getting Personal

Through face-to-face contact with legislators, Illinois ESPs helped pass a state law that limits outsourcing.

By John Rosales

When school district officials vote to outsource school services, the ripple effect is devastating—and education support professionals (ESPs) suffer most.

Short-sighted decisions that cost ESPs their jobs often mean that the school loses employees who live, shop, vote, and volunteer in the district where they work. Students and parents lose dedicated employees, who are often their neighbors. Even elected officials benefit from the advocacy of ESPs who attend political rallies and fundraisers, as well as PTA and school board meetings.

To counter the tide of privatization in Illinois schools, a group of ESPs, Illinois Education Association (IEA) staff, labor groups, and elected officials joined forces to pass statewide legislation that would provide a measure of job security for non-certified employees—and create awareness of the losses experienced when ESPs are replaced with subcontractors.

ESPs were at the nexus of this new anti-privatization political force. “It’s more than a job for us,” says Dave Massena, a custodian who is co-president of the Greenville Educational Support Staff in Illinois “It’s our career.”

From left to right: Dave Arnold, David Moore, Dave Massena, Nancy Arnold, Mary Moore, and Joyce Poelker joined forces to fight outsourcing efforts in their state.
Photo: Kristen Schmid Schurter

The effort generated a bill that was passed by both chambers of the Illinois Legislature in May. At press time, the bill (Third Party Subcontracting of School Services) awaits the governor’s signature to become law. If signed by the governor, the bill places reasonable requirements on school districts and contractors to actually demonstrate that subcontracting will save money. The bill requires a sensible timeline for decision-making, including public discussion and input if school districts so desire.

“We formed a productive collaboration where everybody stepped up,” Massena says. “It’s awesome that the little guy can meet and campaign with [state] senators and accomplish something like this.”

The bill states that if ESPs have a union contract, their employer cannot subcontract until it expires. The bill also requires any subcontractor to pay comparable benefits for the same work.

The days of replacing school employees who have good benefits with subcontracted employees who have none are over, says IEA UniServ Director Marcus Albrecht.

The process began in 2005. After deciding that subcontracting was a critical issue, IEA governance identified state Sen. Deanna Demuzio as a possible supporter of legislation to defend job security.

“We filled up two cars and drove to her house...and told our stories,” Albrecht says. After several hours, the group secured her support, then later that of state Sen. Don Harmon.

ESPs personalized the need for the bill by detailing individual hardships because of low pay and the threat of outsourcing, he adds. After garnering support from ESP locals in different parts of the state, Albrecht and other UniServ representatives sat down with ESP leaders to discuss the language and other specifics that should be contained in the bill, later drafted by IEA.

By 2006, Stacy Burroughs, IEA’s ESP specialist, had organized a statewide task force on the bill, while IEA staff member Brian Rous worked the halls of the statehouse. He also developed alliances with the American Federation of Teachers and other community groups.

It’s awesome that the little guy can meet and campaign with [state] senators and accomplish something like this. —Dave Massena

In his bimonthly column, ESP Dave Arnold calls the subcontracting bill “the greatest legislative achievement for Illinois ESPs since we won collective bargaining rights.” Read more at

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