Schenectady County

Niskayuna union set to grieve school bus outsource

The Niskayuna school district and the union representing its bus drivers appear to be on their way t

The Niskayuna school district and the union representing its bus drivers appear to be on their way to a legal battle over a district outsourcing plan, after the drivers resoundingly rejected a last-ditch proposal last week, the two sides said.

Both sides say they are each in a good position to prevail at the next level, but the final result is not expected for some time.

The bus drivers’ union has already filed a notice with the district of intent to take the case to the Public Employment Relations Board, union spokesman and shop steward David Owens said. With the rejection of the latest proposal, the union will officially file once the district signs a contract with the outside company.

That is now expected to take place in July or August, district officials said.

The plan to outsource bus drivers is part of the district’s new budget proposal, hammered out after voters last month rejected a budget plan that would have resulted in a 5.76 percent tax levy increase.

In response, the board proposed a combination of $900,000 in spending cuts and new revenue, which would limit the tax increase to 3.95 percent.

Included in those cuts was the outsourcing of the bus drivers, something the district had talked about as far back as early 2012. The district estimates that outsourcing the drivers would save about $200,000.

The new 2013-14 budget proposal calls for spending $75,693,201, or a 0.47 percent spending increase over the current 2012-13 budget. It now comes in below the mandated state cap at just below a 4 percent tax levy increase. Voters will decide on the proposal on Tuesday.

A second defeat would require the district to cut an additional $2 million to get to a required zero increase in the tax levy.

Both sides said the bus driver issue won’t be settled with the vote, since both budget options — the 3.95 percent plan and the contingency plan — would include outsourcing.

That means the issue of who pays the district’s bus drivers, and how much, would be decided before the state Public Employment Relations Board. If the district ultimately wins, it could continue to outsource its drivers. If it loses, the district could be on the hook for back pay and benefits for drivers.

On Friday, Niskayuna Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio said the district has “made every effort” to get a deal done. “What we know is that everything that we could possibly do, we have done,” she said.

Owens, the union shop steward, though, questioned why the district seeks the money from drivers.

“They’re asking the lowest paid in the district to take the biggest cut in pay to assist in balancing a budget that is in the state it’s in because the finances have been so mismanaged over the last several years,” Owens said.

The proposal the union rejected last week included a 12.5 percent pay cut for drivers as well as cuts in pension payments — cuts that would have added up to the $200,000 in savings the district expects from the outsourcing plan.

“We agreed to take that back to the members, even though it was almost certain that they would vote against it,” Owens said Friday. Some 20 union members voted for the plan, and 64 against, Owens said.

The bus drivers are represented by the Niskayuna School District Employees Association, which also covers cafeteria, maintenance and other workers. There are about 117 members. About 40 of the district’s 54 bus drivers are union members.

The district is expected to choose Ohio-based First Student to contract bus drivers. Current bus drivers could have a job with the new company, if they want it. Pay rates won’t be the same, and Owens said drivers would see pay cuts.

District officials said pay cuts would not be across the board.

The plan only relates to the drivers themselves. Buses and other equipment would remain with the district.

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