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Wage concessions keep school bus drivers away from Plum routes

| Wednesday, July 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Bus routes are set in the Plum School District.

The question of who will drive some of the routes has yet to be answered, district transportation Manager Scott Mergen last week told Plum School Board members.

“We have 44 drivers now and 54 to 56 routes,” Mergen said during a transportation committee meeting. “I am 10 to 12 drivers short.”

Mergen said the driver shortage is the result of about seven retirements and another four resignations.

The drivers who resigned made the decision, Mergen said, based upon the $4.23 an hour wage cut for the 2013-14 school year.

Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1595 that represents the district's bus drivers, mechanics and aides earlier this year voted to accept a three-year contract that called for a wage freeze in the 2012-13 school year, a $4.23 an hour wage cut in the second year and an 8-cent-an-hour increase in the third year.

Mergen said he is having difficulty finding candidates for the vacant positions because of an $11.83 an hour starting rate.

“When they can make $4 more (with another district), they aren't interested,” Mergen said.

Mergen said he continues to work on recruiting drivers to avoid having to outsource some of the routes to a private company.

Outsourcing results in added costs for the district. Mergen said the price tag depends upon a variety of factors including the number of students, time necessary to complete each run, whether a bus aide is required and mileage.

The transportation department's budget for the 2013-14 school year is $2.2 million, Mergen said.

Mergen also has problems finding substitute drivers because candidates are not satisfied with $11.75 an hour. The rate had been $14.50 before the contract was ratified.

In addition to initially hiking the hourly rate, the school board, prior to the contract approval, voted to pay for the substitute drivers' training that costs about $600 per driver and for criminal background checks and other clearances that cost about $50 per candidate.

Transportation union President Donna Meanor said a driver shortage does not surprise her.

“Why should they (drivers) take a reduction?” Meanor asked. “I am concerned, but they had to do what they had to do.”

Meanor, who in September will be marking her 20th year as a school bus driver in Plum, said she is considering retirement.

“I am going back and looking at my options,” Meanor said.

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400 ext. 8753 or kzapf@tribweb.com.

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