C-A Bus drivers in talks to keep jobs

FLINT TWP. — The fate of the jobs of Carman-Ainsworth bus drivers and custodians still is undecided, pending the outcome of contract negotiations.

At its meeting last week, the school board passed a resolution authorizing negotiation of contracts for noninstructional support services.

With a goal to obtain “high quality noninstructional support services at sustainable rates,’’ the resolution cited the Michigan Public Employment Relations Act which allows the district to use third-part contracts for support services.

The resolution also stipulated that the Superintendent is authorized to consider provision of services from both the existing group of employees and from private contractors.

Former Superintendent Bill Haley, whose last day was June 30, said the document directs the superintendent to engage in cost-cutting negotiations across the board, not just with bus drivers and contractors.

Steve Tunnicliff, former assistant superintendent, took over the reigns as Superintendent this week.

The board approved the resolution after hearing about 40 minutes of public comment from a large group of bus drivers and supporters who crowded into the meeting to plead for their jobs. Wearing red T-shirts bearing the words “Don’t Fire Us.,” they spoke of the contributions and sacrifices they have made to the district and the bond established with parents and children on their routes.

One 26-year driver said the last few weeks have been stressful as they wondered what will happen to their jobs. She said drivers have already taken several cuts in recent years. Last year, most runs were reduced to six down from 10, which by her calculations adds p to a $56.36 a day pay cut, she said.

“My own wages decreased almost $13,000 since school started this year,” she said.

Another speaker cited audit results showing that actual spending in the school budget in recent years fell short of projected deficits, leaving a larger than expected fund balance. He suggested the board hold off on making drastic personnel changes until the financial picture is clearer.

It was the second time last month that the group appeared before the board. This time around, they also posted signs all around town in an organized effort to garner community support.

Roy Freeman, of the Michigan Education Association Antiprivitization Task Force, said he has not seen a group as organized in all of his statewide travels to similar meetings.

He also said that private companies only hire about 30 percent of existing staff and only retain about six percent of those the following year.

“I challenge you to listen to what was said here tonight,’’ he said, echoing sentiments that the level of care for the students will diminish.

“I hope that you can look inside and see you have a valuable investment in the employees that you have. They care for your students. They care for their community and that is where they need to stay,’’ he said.

Haley said privatization was being considered as a way to offset declining revenues and balance the budget. But he noted that it was the second year that the board requested proposals for the service to comply with a state-mandated Best Practice Incentive to bring additional per pupil funds to the district. The board did not act on proposals for bus and custodial services it solicited last year and may do so again this year.

But budget constraints are much tighter this year. Haley pointed out that district’s dwindling budget fund balance is projected to be nearly depleted by the end of the 2012-13 school year.

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