School bus contractors face reduction in reimbursement

January 20, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

School bus contractors are upset that the Board of Education has given itself the option to reduce their pay next year.

Last week's unanimous decision allows the board to reduce contractors' rate of reimbursement if the school system finds itself in a budget crunch. Starting next year, contractors will have to sign an agreement with a provision that allows the board such power.

Contractors called the decision unfair.

"This is the only business that these contractors have," said Thomas M. Meachum, lawyer for the School Bus Contractors Association. "When you're changing rates of reimbursement in the middle of the year, it's not fair and equitable for them."

For many bus companies, contracts with the school system are their only livelihood, said Barbara Ely, owner of E&B Ely in Ellicott City.

"For a lot of the people, this is the only thing they do," she said. "It's a full-time professional business. We're all small businesses."

Board members said bus contractors were the last to be immune from pay cuts. Some school employees have been laid off, while others, like teachers, have had their salaries frozen. Other contractors, such as roofers and builders, already make agreements that are contingent on funding, said school board chairman Dana Hanna.

"The law already gives us the ability to lay off and to modify contracts for teachers and other employees in the system, not that we want to use it," said Deborah Kendig. "Sometimes, given the uncertainty of what the legislature imposes on us midyear, I think we should have that type of [power]."

"The fact is we do have the ability to lay off employees at any time," said Mr. Hanna. "At this time, this is a protected class. . . . Other school systems have furloughed employees."

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