Rochester bus drivers, custodians to lose jobs

Transportation employee Andrew Jaracz protests outsourcing of his job.

Some 250 Rochester Community Schools employees will lose their jobs at the end of the school year due to outsourcing of transportation, custodial and some grounds maintenance jobs.

The board of education voted unanimously Monday to contract with Durham School Services for student transportation and with GCA Education Services for custodial and partial grounds work. Superintendent Frederick Clarke said the district expects to save $11.7 million over the three-year term of the two contracts.

“At this point, we really have to recommend that we move toward this option,” Clarke said. “We are in crisis mode right now and I really wish we didn’t have to do it.”

Clarke particularly blamed retirement costs, which will take 27 percent of every payroll dollar come fall.

“It equates to approximately $9 million we have to come up with every year,” he said.  “We face for next year a $10.8 million shortfall. This is the largest shortfall of any district in the county, I’m told.”

In 2009 the same employees, known as the Blue Group, agreed to $2.2 million in concessions in order to keep their jobs. But Clarke said state funding, coupled with the rising cost of retirement, has put the squeeze on the district.

“The state is forcing our hand in many areas and what we have to do is keep that as far away from the classroom as possible,” he said. “We have to look at the non-instructional costs in order to preserve instructional programming.”

Affected employees packed the meeting, along with some parents who urged the board not to lay off bus drivers. Rebecca French said her special-needs son rode the buses for many years.

“I had a special relationship with a lot of (drivers), and some of them are here tonight,” she said.  “It just breaks my heart to think all of these people are going to lose their jobs. …

“Who else is going to lose? The kids, the kids are going to lose, especially the special needs kids. And I don’t care what kind of training program you offer, you cannot replace experience.”

Transportation employee Richard Hall blasted the district’s teachers. “With one or two exceptions, shame on you, Rochester teachers, for your lack of support,” he said.

According to its website, Durham is based in Illinois and serves 350 school districts in 30 states, including Birmingham, Royal Oak and Southfield in Oakland County. In 1998 the company was acquired by United Kingdom-based National Express Group.  The company is offering an incentive in hopes of retaining the bulk of the district’s current employees. Pay will be similar, but several employees said benefits will not be.

GCA Services Group was founded in 2003 and operates in 45 states. It provides facilities services to 150 school districts in addition to office buildings, the energy and defense sectors and more. The wage being offered is significantly less than the district’s employees currently make, and retention is not expected to be high.

In addition to outsourcing, the district is in the process of refinancing some bonds issued for building and site work in 2004. The district hopes to save $1.5 to $2 million thanks to lower interest rates. The bonds would still be paid off on their original schedule, “but at a much lower interest cost,” said Assistant Superintendent for Business Daniel Romzek.

Next up are programming decisions. On May 7, the administration will present its preliminary budget recommendation. On May 21 the final recommendation will be up for discussion and, on June 18 there will be a public hearing on the budget, which must be adopted by June 30.

Trustee Beth Talbert said the alternative to outsourcing would be to end transportation all together.

“I believe there are a number of people in our community who think transportation is a luxury,” she said. “I think keeping bus services for our students is a critical service, and for us to provide that means outsourcing.”

Resident Julie Wright said parents should direct their anger at their state legislators, not the board of education.

“Remember your anger … as your child’s education quality dwindles,” she said. “Some say it’s the greedy unions, but it isn’t; it’s the current legislature. … Please remember your anger come this election cycle in November.”

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