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 Walled Lake cancels calls in due to sick drivers
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Posted - 05/08/2013 :  10:29:41 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote

The Walled Lake School District has canceled classes Wednesday for its 15,600 students after a high number of bus drivers called in sick.

According to the district, students and staff involved in advanced placement testing were to report because the tests cannot be made up. Primetime care also is being offered for students and families who normally use the service.

The sick calls by drivers were in reaction to the recent action of the school board to outsource the district's bus service to a private transportation firm, resulting in the impending firing of up to 120 bus drivers.

The school board which voted 7-0 Thursday night in favor of privatizing its bus service said the switch was necessary in order to help trim the district's $10 million debt.

The school's 120 drivers will be laid off June 30. The new company could decide to hire back a number of those drivers.

According to Superintendent Kenneth Gutman, outsourcing will save the district $1.4 million a year for the next three years.

"We love our drivers. They're outstanding. It's not personal," Gutman was quoted as saying in a story in The Spinal Column.

Aaron Sheposh, Michigan Education Association's UniServe director for Walled Lake, confirmed the decision to privatize bus service provoked Wednesday's situation.

"The recent decision to fire all the drivers and replace them with a private company has stirred strong emotions among both the employees and the community," said Sheposh, who said that neither the MEA nor the Walled Lake Transportation Association had any knowledge before hand about the sick plan.

"To replace the first school-related faces students see in the morning with a for-profit company is a disservice to those students and the years of dedication by the drivers."

Bus driver Michael Lalonde said he showed up for work and found out school was canceled.

"I don't think they worked very fairly with the privatization issue," said the Walled Lake resident who has two children in the district. "I also don't believe we should have taken the day off school."

Lalonde, who has spent three years as a bus driver for the district, including two years driving special needs students said he would consider reapplying for his job with the new company because he likes what he does.

"When you see these kids, if you can brighten their day a little, it makes your day better," he said. "It is rewarding."

Another bus driver with 20 years experience, who declined to give her name, said there are some things more important than money and that includes the safety and well-being of the district's students.

"I feel the kids should come first," said the woman. "Most of us live in the neighborhood, we know the area, we know who is a stranger. Wouldn't you rather create a safer existence because we are more aware?"

She said she and many other drivers have developed relationships with the students and their families over the years.

"We get our kindergartners, on our elementary routes, and we have them for six years," she said. "We watch them grow, we see their triumphs and trials. We get to know their families. We become part of their families."

Ann Ridge, president of the Walled Lake Transportation Association, said union members have done their fair share over the past three years to reduce the district's debt.

According to Ridge, transportation workers took a 10 percent pay cut, lost six holidays and other vacation days, pay 100 percent of retirement increases, pay 20 percent more in insurance premiums and pay 100 percent of insurance increases.

The district's drivers who are not full time employees earn between $11,000 and $18,000 per year.

The school district also asked its 900 teachers for $2.6 million in cuts but finally agreed to $2 million in reductions.

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Posted - 05/08/2013 :  6:30:21 PM  Show Profile  Visit thomas86_a's Homepage  Send thomas86_a an AOL message  Reply with Quote
Sorry to hear they are being outsourced, it seems to be the trend in this state now.

If you have an International, you NEED customer service.
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08 Thomas EF
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Posted - 05/10/2013 :  6:54:18 PM  Show Profile  Visit 08 Thomas EF's Homepage  Reply with Quote
While I prefer private fleets over outsourced fleets, it bugs me that people who are opposed to the outsourcing say things like "outsiders" will be transporting their kids. The drivers have to come from somewhere nearby (they won't drive hours to get to the job), and more than likely, the drivers who are already driving for the district will be hired to work for the company -- and perhaps make more money with the company than they were with the district. Of course, it brings on the usual evils/negligences that we all know and love about FS et al., but there are some things that people are unnecessarily afraid of, IMO.

The funny thing is, my district has done several evaluations over the long-term cost of contracting vs. remaining private, and they always arrive at the conclusion that it's cheaper to remain private. Maybe due to our small size? We only have about 20 buses on route. But it's interesting to see those districts that switch justify doing so by the savings "over the next three years" or whatever, but we never hear the numbers for the long run. And, I do trust my district's evaluation. Although there have been cuts here and there, we've still never been in debt as long as I can remember, and in fact, our budget for this year is at an $11k surplus, and at the end of the year, any surplus funds go into a nonlapsing account and they use those funds for emergencies or other unexpected expenditures.

Edited by - 08 Thomas EF on 05/10/2013 6:59:10 PM
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