Bus drivers to C-A board: “Please do not fire us”

FLINT TWP. — Contracting out custodial and bus driver services is becoming common for school boards trying to balance budgets as expenses outstrip dwindling revenues.

Likewise, privatizing is one of the options being considered for Carman- Ainsworth custodial and bus services.

For the second year, C-A administration sent out requests for proposals (RFPs) for the services. Last year, they opted not to follow through and have the same option this year.

Spending more than is taken in for many years has led to a structural budget deficit compounded by declining enrollment, said Superintendent Bill Haley, who is leaving at the end of the month for another job.

The board has little choice but to consider options, including privatizing noninstructional services, in order to create a balanced budget for the 2012-13 school year, he said.

For a number of years, the deficit was resolved through staff reductions, onetime revenue sources and drawing from the District Fund Balance.

Last year, the district solicited bids for non-instructional service to be eligible for funding under state’s Best Practice legislation It allowed school district’s in compliance to re-coup $100 per student of a nearly $600 per student net reduction in funding.

“We are sending out bids again this year to qualify for the newest Best Practice incentive ($50 per student) and because the Board may be forced to consider privatizing some support services out of budgetary necessity,” Haley said.

A large group of bus drivers attended the June 15 C-A school board meeting to ask the board to find a different solution.

Rondy Murray, a Michigan Education Association UniServ director, spoke against privatizing custodial, bus driver and bus aide jobs.

Support staff are an integral part of the “C-A family” who have made many sac- rifices including working harder and longer hours without pay increases to ease he district’s financial problems, she said.

“When you privatize employees, you essentially fire them,” Murray said. “They lose their jobs, they lose their health insurance and they lose their retirement benefits. The devastation is terrifying to those individuals and it also has a strong negative impact on the community.”

She went on to say that most of C-A’s support staff live in and spend money in the community.

“This group of people – the support staff – has been part of the family and they have worked hard to be part of the solution. You can’t now just turn them away and take away their jobs.”

Bus drivers who spoke talked about the personal impact losing their job would have on their lives. One said she needs her job because she is now raising her grandchildren after the death of their mother, who was her daughter.

Many said they raised their children in the district and now have grandchildren in the district. They spoke of times they have paid out of their own pocket to help children on their route who needed food, shelter, clothing and other support.

Some board members responded to concerns raised.

Board president Patrice Hatcher said C-A finances have been headed for a cliff for several years.

“We’ve hit it and fallen off of it,” she said. “I don’t know what the answers will be. I wish I had a magic wand.”

She said she appreciated the sentiments expressed and was well aware that drivers do a lot for the students.

Peggy Anderson said as a long-time school board member, resident for 34 years who raised her own children in CA schools, she empathized with everything said.

“We aren’t going to do anything we don’t have to do,’’ she said.

Don Conway, a C-A graduate and parent of a C-A graduate, asked the drivers to look at the problems and offer solutions.

“Nothing is etched in stone yet,” he said. “We have to look at every line item but we are required by law to present a balanced budget to the state of Michigan.”

Hatcher added that failure to do so could entail the state sending in an emergency manager which no one wants.

The board has yet to make a final determination on its budget situation. The 2012-13 budget adoption hearing is scheduled for Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.

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