Source: Sherman Publications

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Goodrich bus drivers privatized
Outside company to transport students this fall

by David Fleet

June 19, 2013

Goodrich-By a vote of 5-1 the school board OK'd a three year contract with Portland-based Michigan Education Transportation Services (METS). Trustee Linda Jackson was absent. Trustee Tim Zirnhelt voted no.

"METS offered the most opportunity for savings," said Scott Bogner, district superintendent. "The district will save $20,000-$25,000 per school year and we still own the buses."

Earlier this year school officials advertised for outsourcing the 15 bus drivers for the district to help contend, in part, with nearly a $900,000 budget deficit. So far about $750,000 has been cut from the budget and school officials anticipate dipping into the fund equity, leaving about 8.34 percent at the end of the 2012-13 fiscal year this month. The district also laid-off seven teachers (staff) and five other employees during the past school year. In addition, other concessions were made regarding wages and benefits of employee groups.

The fund equity is the excess of the district assets above its liabilities (what the district owns minus what it owes). While cash is an asset, it's only one of many of an institution's assets. Others include: accounts receivable, prepaid expenses, supplies, equipment and buildings.

Terese Knag, Genesee Intermediate School District, regional shared time director, business services, provided an analysis of the district 2012-13 budget along with projections for the 2013-14 school year on Monday night.

"The decline in state funding continues along with a decline in enrollment for Goodrich," she said. "There has also been 40 percent fewer births in Genesee County over the previous year. That will mean a lot fewer six-year-old students here in Goodrich and in other districts in the county down the road."

Knag said the district fund balance has declined from about $3.5 million to a projected $1,246,820 or about 7.06 percent for the 2013-14 school year. The school board has a policy in place to maintain a fund balance of 10 percent, which school officials say that since 2007 has been reduced by about $2 million.

Despite the rather grim budget projections, the outsourcing of the drivers drew the ire of at least one school board member.

"To outsource the drivers is wrong," said Zirnhelt. "We need to pick and choose those that drive our children. We don't know these (METS) drivers."

"Tim, I hear you," said Jeff Gardner, board vice president. "But look at Buena Vista (school district)— they are going to dissolve the district. It's a dire situation, we someday could be part of Brandon, Davison or Grand Blanc (school districts)—our district would just be gone. I'm not prepared to let that happen. I'm not prepared to let them cut us (Goodrich) into pieces."

According to news sources, earlier this month the Michigan House and Senate approved school dissolution bills on Buena Vista District and others that are in deficits.

Bogner said the 15 bus drivers will receive lay-off notices from the district according to the agreement with the district's Custodians, Maintenance, Para-Pros and Transportation (CMPT) labor group.

"The drivers will have the opportunity to apply for the jobs with METS," said Bogner. "The compensation will be the same at $17.84 per hour and 20 to 25 hours per week. The district savings will result from less retirement costs, F.I.C.A. (Federal Insurance Contributions Act), and workers' compensation."

. Four companies responded with proposals to the bus driver bid request based on regular district bus routes. According to the bids, only one would realize a savings to the district. Lansing-based Dean Transportation was $112,000 more than the current busing cost; Cincinnati-based Auxillio Services came in $27,000 more; Warrenville, Ill.-based Durhum Services was $61,000 more. Michigan Educational Transportation Services (METS) bid less than what the district is currently paying..

Bogner added the district will consider installing video cameras in the school buses, a decision that had been proposed prior to the contract with METS.

"METS is a reputable company that will impose all the necessary standards for drivers. The safety of the students will be top priority, but I'm confident METS will take care of that. Any transition can be stressful but we will work through the issues."

"These are tough times, no doubt," said Bogner. "Our focus is to keep resources in the classroom. It's simple— we have to live within our means as a district. I understand people don't want change. People need to understand we are not far away from becoming a deficit district. We can make decisions now to prevent that—to be proactive. It's about stabilization. Many other groups have stepped up in the district."

Betty Butterworth, CMPT president for the labor group representing about 42 district employees including the drivers, said money is not the only issue.

"I don't think any of the current drivers are going to apply for the jobs with METS," she said. "At this point they have just had it with the district, they are tired of fighting. Hopefully the kids will be safe on the bus and be taken care of like we did for so many years as Goodrich drivers. We don't understand the decision, we gave them $377,000 in cuts from the CMPT, not including the 5.5 percent or about $128,000 two years in wage cuts. It's not that we did not try to help them with the money issues. I don't know what it is?"

"The Goodrich drivers will move on with their lives, but remember, we are still taxpayers in this community and voters in the district. When things don't work out they will hear from us, I have grandchildren here and I will look out for their welfare."