6/28/08

Labor-state school union resists privatization

Gov't-unionists struggle to save dues-flow

The signs fought for attention over the sounds of the idling engines and traffic - "Madison Taxpayer Against Privatize Busing," "Shame On You School Board" and "Our Children's Safety? Priceless!"

About 15 bus drivers, and as many school employees and community members, took their signs to the streets Friday, though their broader messages couldn't fit onto any single roadside posterboard.

While Madison Schools Superintendent James Herrholtz and the Madison (OH) School Board already have decided to privatize busing next year, members of the district's transportation department are not resigned to their fate.

"At this point, nothing will hurt," said Trina Molnar, field representative for the Ohio Association of Public School Employees Local 238. "These members have to do something. This is their livelihood."

Because the Youngstown-based Community Bus Service promised savings worth $1.5 million over five years, Herrholtz issued an "all or nothing" proposal package to OAPSE on June 12, asking for similar savings. Five days later, he proposed privatization to the school board.

About 40 drivers will be unemployed after their contract expires Monday.
Herrholtz defends his decision, touting the savings and CBS' policy to stay local.

"Their goal is to employ homegrown drivers from the Madison area and many of the current drivers will be re-employed immediately," he said at the meeting.

"We have painstakingly evaluated and reviewed this since January and the $300,000 we are saving a year was the driving force in making the decision."

But Molnar said the union felt snubbed because the decision to privatize was made before negotiations could be scheduled.

"When you want to negotiate something in or out of a contract, you do it in negotiations," she said. "The union is a unit."

Drivers wonder about CBS' methods for cost-saving efficiency, she said, questioning if it will mean fewer stops or less personalized services.

And while most drivers have interviewed with CBS, none have received confirmation that they will be rehired in August.

John Bunner, the district's on-board trainer, said streetside protests will continue "as long as it takes."

"The board itself owed it to the Madison bus drivers, especially the ones who have years of service, to sit down and talk, but they never did," said the 19-year driver, who has interviewed with CBS.

Friday morning, toots of support frequented Route 20 near the board office and Burns Road near the high school. YMCA, Laketran and USPS vehicles honked, too.
"I'm with you guys, man," a mail carrier called as he delivered to neighboring apartments.

Steve Henderson, the eight-year bus driver who thanked him for the support, said he doesn't plan to interview with CBS.

"I'm here because what's right is right," he said. "I grew up with Howdy Doody and the Lone Ranger and that stuff, and I can't get that out of my system."

Identified by his sign as a "Madison Taxpayer," Ray Miller said he'll never vote for another school levy if busing is privatized.

"This is a fine example of showing our children how to treat longtime employees," he said. "They should be an asset, not a liability."

And Anna Jewell, a resident and retired Mentor bus driver, thinks he's not alone. She worries the community might become jaded; on Monday morning the board also plans to yank a bond issue, intended to build a new centralized education complex, from the ballot due to a lack of support.

"If they go through with this, I think they can kiss their new school goodbye for good," Jewell said. "What's to say the next thing they're going to do isn't privatize food service? What's next?"

(zwire.com)

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