Huntsville City Schools will contract a new temporary staffing company next school year
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Thursday, the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education voted to hire Professional Education Services Group (PESG) to handle its temporary personnel, from special education aides, to custodial support staff.
During the meeting, school leaders revealed that PESG had the lowest bid. Its opponent in the bid process was Appleton, a local company the district has most recently paid for those services.
There were to concerns about PESG highlighted at the meeting: responsibility and rates of pay.
The district questioned PESG CEO, Henry Bledsoe, at its May 3 work session and continued that discussion into Thursday’s meeting. There have been reports of PESG-hired staff members being accused of inappropriate behavior in other states. When asked about these reports, Bledsoe said at the work session that he is involved in every case brought against PESG or involving their employees. He said he could account for the incidents and knew what the board was bringing up. He said that the company has 42,000 employees and he admitted that some people can do bad things. He said he can’t guarantee they wouldn’t do bad things in Huntsville, but they do screening and in-depth background checks before hiring people.
Thursday Beth Wilder, a board member, asked if the bid process for this contract followed bid law. School officials and attorneys said it did.
Michelle Watkins, another board member, asked the attorney to outline that bid law. The attorney said PESG was the lowest bidder, and that the board “shall” hire that lowest bidder based on the statute.
“I’m concerned we might not have a responsible bidder on our hands. That would be a reason to vote it down,” said Elisa Ferrell, the board president.
“This vendor was vetted,” an attorney insisted.
While some, like Ferrell, questioned whether the company was responsible enough to work for Huntsville based on past mistakes of its employees, others worried that hiring PESG would result in a pay cut for critical support staff: Special Education aides.
The district has not previously set the pay rates in its contracts for temporary personnel, but for this round of bidding, it did. PESG’s contract bid would result in a $3.75 pay cut for SPED aides.
Some board members commented that they were torn on such a decision.
“It’s hard for me to support people getting a pay cut. That’s really hard for me to do. But even with the bid law, with the statutes, what we’re required to do and what we’re bound to do is hard sometimes. But these are the hard decisions that have to be made,” said Michelle Watkins.
Others, like Pam Hill, criticized Appleton, how much it cost to hire them in the first place, and who is behind them now.
“I happened to have been in the classroom with them because I was a teacher and had Appleton aides that showed up, some that didn’t show up, some that worked and some that played on their phones, some that looked like they were dressed for the garden, and some who looked like they were dressed for work,” she stated. “Since we are going to be so picky, I want to go back to 2015… They were the highest bidder.” She asked, “I just thought all of a sudden a lot of really rich people cared about our support personnel, but maybe it does have something to do with money after all.’
In the end, it was a 3-2 vote for PESG. Walker McGinnis and Elisa Ferrell, who noted she has a child with special needs, voted against.
Afterward Bledsoe, PESG’s CEO, told WHNT News 19 that they weren’t aware of the pay difference when they put their bids out. They want people to know, he said, that they are committed to Huntsville City Schools and the people it serves. He stated that PESG will make up the $3.75 pay difference for SPED aides itself, at a $225,045 cost to the company.