It’s hard to quibble with the assessment by one of today’s letter writers regarding the Niskayuna school district and its bus drivers.
District officials made clear their desire to rid themselves of the drivers’ pricey contract over a year ago, as they grappled with the district’s annual budget crisis. As Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio admitted in a letter to the editor yesterday, the district first floated the idea of outsourcing bus service 18 months ago, in an effort to save money while preserving jobs, so it was hardly surprising that the idea resurfaced during this year’s budget mess.
Nor was it a shock that the drivers’ union rejected a proposal to cut their wages by upwards of 12.5 percent and their pension contributions by roughly one-third. What union would ever accept a plan like that?
But Niskayuna’s bus drivers, most of whom are part-time, make pretty good money, averaging roughly $20 per hour. And their pensions — how many part-time workers in the public or private sector even have them? — account for another 22 percent of wages. While they may not be the highest-paid drivers in the area, so what?
The district, whose budget with a 5.76 percent tax levy hike was soundly rejected by voters a month ago, had to make cuts. Just as it did earlier this spring, to get the board’s initial tentative budget whittled down under a double-digit increase. Just as it did a year ago, when it was in a similar bind. The point being: Plenty of jobs, including those of teachers, had already been eliminated over the last two years, and it was bus drivers’ turn to do some sacrificing. The district’s outsourcing plan requires the contractor to give current drivers first refusal on jobs, so even though they’ll make less money, they won’t wind up unemployed.
The current situation in Niskayuna is not pleasant, but it’s not anywhere else, either, as costs keep rising while the ability of taxpayers and the state to cover them does not. A good school board’s priority must be its educational program, with the goal to cause as little harm to it as possible. Unfortunately, that may mean a supporting player like a school bus driver has to give something back; but what is the alternative when taxpayers have clearly made their feelings known about higher taxes?