No resolution in sight to bus contractors' dispute with schools

January 06, 1993|By Monica Norton | Monica Norton,Staff Writer

A yearlong dispute over how the county's 47,000 students ar bused to school seems far from over.

School officials released yesterday a copy of a letter sent to County Council members. The letter was in response to nine questions Pasadena Councilman Carl "Dutch" Holland posed to school officials at a Dec. 14 meeting.

Members of the Anne Arundel County School Bus Contractors' Association -- which represents some, but not all, of the 59 contractors used by the board -- have complained they were never consulted before a school system budget was passed last year.

They say their drivers should be paid the same as those who work directly for the school board and insist the school system is moving away from using contractors in favor of a publicly owned system -- at a time when public and government support for contractual systems as a cost-saving measure is on the increase.

But, in the letter, Ronald L. Beckett, assistant superintendent for support services, countered that his office is trying to make the ,, best of a tight money situation. He said contractors were consulted before last year's budget was passed and denied the school system is treating contractors and their drivers unfairly.

Mr. Beckett said the school system gave contractors a 3 percent increase in money for purchasing new vehicles and a 3 percent increase for maintenance and operation costs. After the increases had been set following discussions with the association, he said, the contractors asked for a 19 percent salary increase and threatened a job action if their request was not met.

"That is totally untrue," said David Sheehan, an attorney representing the contractors. "Nobody ever threatened the school system with a job action. I don't know where they ever got that."

No increase was approved, and no job action was undertaken.

The 66 buses operated by the school system itself are used mainly to transport special education students. Another 362 buses are operated by various contractors.

In his letter, Mr. Beckett said that the school system, by using some of its own buses, saves 8 percent over what it would cost for contractors to provide the same service. He also said the school system is considering using only its own buses, calling such a switch "in the long run . . . a cost-effective and efficient solution."

Contractors say they want equal pay for their drivers and those who work directly for the school system. Board of Education drivers earn from $9.94 to $12.41 per hour. Bus contractors receive $10.70 per hour to pay their drivers -- although, in the letter, Mr. Beckett said contractors are free to pay their drivers whatever they want.

"It really irritates me to hear the contractors complain about what their drivers are making when they're not passing [the increases] on to their drivers," Mr. Beckett said. "We asked contractors if they would pass on all of the increase to their drivers, and they refused to agree to that."

But Mr. Sheehan said he had given school board members a written promise that any increases would be passed on to drivers.

Mr. Holland said he is waiting to hear the bus contractors' response to Mr. Beckett's letter before making any decision.

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