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Board expected to vote on privatizing busing, custodians Monday

An anti-privatization sign in Goodrich. (click for larger version)
May 16, 2012 - Goodrich- In May 2011 the Goodrich School Board voted 6-0 to OK a labor contract with the Custodians, Maintenance, Para-Pros and Transportation (CMPT) group that included a 5.5 percent reduction in compensation for the employees, saving the district about $120,000. About 61 employees were impacted by the concession. In addition, the district's 11 administrators/supervisors also made concessions.

Now as a $1.6 million deficit looms for the upcoming 2012-13 school year, the board says more cuts are coming.

A vote Monday night is expected by the school board that could mean privatization for two groups of employees.

The plans were first discussed on May 7 when the school board members and administration gathered for a special meeting to discuss privatization for the custodial services and the transportation department. The money saving measures are necessary, say school officials, to help reduce a $1.6 million deficit. A balanced budget is needed by July 1.

"We've been taking a look at privatization in addition to other concessions," said John Fazer, district superintendent. "There could be some restructuring of positions in the district that could prevent privatizing."

The 15 regular Goodrich District bus drivers earn $15.84 per hour. Vision insurance is available for the drivers, who work at least 20 hours per week. The buses transport about 50 students in four runs per school day. There are also five part-time drivers at $14.26 per hour, not on contract.

The district received a bid from the Michigan Educational Transportation Services (METS) which offered drivers a 5 percent wage increase from the current salary and savings to the district is about $23,000-$28,700 per year. The current drivers can apply for the new positions. The district also received a bid from Dean School Transportation Services who responded with a full service contract, including suppling buses and a maintenance contract. The cost for the bid ranges from $651,000 the first year and escalates to $706,957 by the fourth year. The age of the buses will not exceed more than seven years.

In addition the board will discuss privatizing cleaning of the school buildings. The district currently employes two full time custodians while contracting with Flint based At Your Service for the remainder of the school buildings. Eleven companies responded to the bid request.

Karen Lovell, a Goodrich bus driver for more than 12 years and vice-president for the Custodians, Maintenance, Para-Pros and Transportation (CMPT) labor group representing 15 drivers responded to the proposal.

"We lose our retirement, no sick days, no paid holidays, no vision to name a few," she said. "But given we already gave up 5.5 percent in consessions last year we've now lost 28 percent even with the 5 percent increase from METS. We're losing substantially."

"It's sad. Especially when you're making a difference with the community—we've been driving the second generation of students on our buses. These are friends, neighbor kids, we have a vested interested. It's just a $20,000 savings—we only need to lose three students and that savings is gone."

President of Goodrich CMPT Betty Butterworth has 19 years as a driver said she will not apply for the METS job.

"I'm not going to take a 28 percent wage decrease," said Butterworth. "We will be allowed to apply for our jobs—but actually Goodrich is letting us go. There's no guarantee we're going to be hired. It's the safety of our students that's at stake here with the drivers. We have come in to the administration with many cost cutting ideas but they just don't seem interested."

"I think the drivers would all apply at the neighboring school districts—they (drivers) are in demand. You'd have to start at the bottom in other schools but Goodrich is the lowest paid district anyway. Other drivers are paid more per route and with benefits. We've tried to keep our costs down to avoid this and have a year left on our contract. On Wednesday the drivers planned to go door-to-door to inform residents of the issue. In addition the group will be at the Goodrich Flea market on Saturday and plan a rally prior to Monday night's meeting."

Maureen McCallister, a representative of Michigan Education Association of Privatization Snap attended the meetings.

"The minimal savings for the bus drivers is minimal to what this district will lose in their community. Most of these drivers live in the community and care about the kids. Most districts that do outsource jobs for a year find out they are not saving money and have lost the local control. No longer will the district be able to handle concerns about bus drivers, discipline, etc. Turn-over rates are higher in private companies."

"The bus drivers and custodians were promised last year if they took a 5 percent pay cut for their contract they would not be privatized. They haven't gotten through one year of the contract, and that commitment and promise to them is being broken. The district is not giving us much time, especially when you are dealing with people's livelihoods."

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