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Bethel Park board rejects fact-finding on transportation

| Thursday, May 23, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The Bethel Park School Board on Wednesday night rejected a state-appointed fact-finder's report on the district's negotiations with its bus drivers, mechanics and aides, leaving open the possibility that the district could privatize transportation services.

The fact-finder reviewed proposals from the district and representatives from American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 84 and recommended that the district's 79 bus drivers, mechanics and bus aides accept a two-year pay freeze; weigh consolidating vacation, sick time and personal days into a single category of “paid time off”; and contribute up to 2.45 percent of their salary toward health insurance benefits.

The district proposed harsher terms, including an across-the-board pay cut, limits on work hours that could prevent any driver from working full-time for the district and the ability to subcontract work to an outside company if employees worked more than 29 hours or quit their jobs.

The union accepted the fact-finder's report last month, but the district took no action until Wednesday's meeting, when board members unanimously rejected the report.

Many bus drivers and union members attended the meeting. Union vice president Marian Cowan said she just wants a contract.

“Kids are starting to ask me if I'm going to be their bus driver next year. I would like to say yes, but I don't have a clue,” Cowan said.

According to the fact-finder's report, issued to the union and district April 29 and made public last week, the district sought bids from private contractors to run the school buses. Cincinnati-based First Student Inc. submitted a bid, though district officials declined to give details.

The district's transportation budget for this school year is $4.2 million, with employees working under the terms of the contract that expired in 2011.

Federation District Council 84 Director Richard Caponi said the district's deal with First Student would involve selling its buses to the company and leasing it the district's bus garage on Industrial Boulevard.

Rejecting the fact-finder's report means both sides will return to negotiations, though the district may still pursue privatizing its transportation.

The board requested that the union respond to a proposal it made about the report by Tuesday, before the next school board meeting. Board President Donna Cook said the district's first priority is to work on negotiations before considering privatization.

“We need to move forward and close this issue,” board member Ronald Sustich said.

Christina Gallagher and Matthew Santoni are staff writers for Trib Total Media.

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