Kenny Williams is a fourth-grade student at McCullough Elementary School in the Penn-Trafford School District.
Unable to maneuver without his crutches, the special needs student suffers from cerebral palsy and relies heavily on his paraprofessional, Doreen Gamble, who is with him from the time he gets off the bus in the morning until he gets back on at the end of the school day.
At Monday's school board meeting, Ms. Gamble said she is the boy's "arms and legs" throughout the day. He cannot maneuver around the school on his own and often loses his balance, she said.
Ms. Gamble also explained that she must help the boy in the bathroom and help him clean up when he becomes sick due to severe acid reflux. The two have a bond that was not simply formed by one day together, but over time, she said.
"The confidence and trust we have for each other cannot be tested year after year," Ms. Gamble said.
Ms. Gamble was one of a group of parents, teachers and paraprofessionals who spoke at the meeting in opposition to the district's threat to outsource the program.
The district currently employs 39 paraprofessionals who work one-on-one with students who have special needs. A paraprofessional is paired with a student at the beginning of the school year.
The paraprofessionals are members of the Service Employees International Union 32 BJ. The union and district are in contract negotiations; the paraprofessionals' four-year agreement with the district expires June 30.
"I don't believe a temp would give Kenny the same attention," said the boy's mother, Autumn Williams, who is also mother to another special needs child.
Stacey Carl broke out into tears when she spoke about her daughter, Sara, who also attends McCullough.
Mrs. Carl said her daughter is mostly inaudible and often suffers seizures. "Her assistant understands her needs," Mrs. Carl said. "Why change something that doesn't need to be fixed?"
Paraprofessional Cheryl McGartland said she has been working with district students for the past 12 years.
"We are an integral part of the district's instructional team," said Ms. McGartland, who called the district's threat of outsourcing the jobs an "injustice."
Superintendent Thomas Butler declined to comment on the matter, citing confidentiality rules associated with negotiations. He did say he was sorry "so many citizens are so misinformed."
However, Ms. McGartland and SEIU field representative Ryan Terrill said the district proposed outsourcing at its last meeting with them on May 22.
In other business, the school board unanimously approved Mr. Butler's resignation as superintendent, effective Aug. 5. Mr. Butler is leaving after serving two years of his five-year contract to accept the job of executive director of the Blair County-based Appalachia Intermediate Unit 8.
Meanwhile, the board unanimously named assistant superintendent Matt Harris to serve as interim superintendent until Feb. 3, when the district will formally announce Mr. Butler's replacement. Mr. Harris has been with the district for six years.
The school board also approved its 2013-14 $49.3 million budget that calls for no tax increase. The tax rate will remain at 74.85 mills for Westmoreland County residents and 14.43 mills for Allegheny County residents in Trafford.
The district's budget will remain steady although the board has approved a $32 million high school renovation project that will be financed over 12 years.
Linda Metz, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.