Schenectady County

Niskayuna school district moves to outsource bus operations

The Niskayuna Board of Education this week made its first official move since the budget vote to out

The Niskayuna Board of Education this week made its first official move since the budget vote to outsource the operation of its school buses, approving a letter of intent to hire Ohio-based First Student.

Officials said about 45 of the district’s 57 part-time bus drivers have signed up to work for First Student. The deadline to do so is July 10.

The board approved the letter of intent at its Tuesday night meeting.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Matthew Bourgeois told the board before the vote that he anticipates presenting the body with the formal contract at its July 15 meeting. Barring that, it would be in August.

First Student is not expected to take over the busing until September, so bus drivers will be paid at current rates through August, Bourgeois said.

The union representing the bus drivers has already filed a notice with the district of intent to appeal the situation to the Public Employment Relations Board, union spokesman and shop steward David Owens has said.

The plan to outsource bus drivers was a part of the district’s second budget proposal, hammered out after voters in May rejected the initial budget proposal, which 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 will save about $200,000.

District officials have said they made every effort to reach a cost-cutting deal with bus drivers in 18 months of negotiations.

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.

Owens said Wednesday that the issue is in limbo for the union until the district signs the contract with First Student. At that point, the union will file its appeal.

“Until the district signs the contract, we can’t go forward because they haven’t done anything yet,” said Owens, a shop steward with the Niskayuna School District Employees Association.

As for the drivers who have applied to work for First Student, Owens said he can’t hold it against them, as they have bills to pay. Owens, however, isn’t one of them. A district bus driver since 2009, he said he plans to look for a job elsewhere because he can’t work for a company he sees as “the enemy.”

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