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Published May 22, 2013

Van Dyke approves busing outsourcing; staff layoffs

WARREN — In an effort to reduce expenses under its Deficit Elimination Plan through the State of Michigan, Van Dyke Public Schools will outsource its busing services for the next three years.

In addition, fewer employees from various departments will be staffed.

At a school board meeting May 20, the Board of Education voted 6-0 to outsource its transportation unit to a third party company known as First Student, Inc., based in Cincinnati.

The school board also voted 6-0 to lay off 86 staff members, including teachers, custodians, bus drivers and paraprofessionals at the end of the 2012-2013 school year. The services will be discontinued June 30, 2013; however some of the teachers are likely to be called back to work.

Board Trustee Eleanor Bates was absent from the meeting.

Six bids were received and reviewed by Central Office administration for the third party busing transportation services. Three companies were interviewed and, according to school officials, references were checked on two of them.

The school board accepted a proposed bid from First Student for $765,131 for the first year; $780,434 for the second year; and $795,973 for the third year.

Because of the outsourcing, the district will save a total of $57,103 for the 2013-2014 school year; $136,055 the following year; and $158,049 for the 2015-2016 school year. The total savings over the next three years is $$351,207 for the district.

Van Dyke employees who currently work in the transportation department will have the opportunity to apply to work under First Student. 

“The employees will be interviewed and given every opportunity,” district Superintendent Joe Pius said at the board table. “If they choose not to they will be given unemployment. (The company) suggested to maintain the exact level of salary we have to date. The rate of pay is at the same cost as what we currently pay. We also have to pay for unemployment. That is a figure that is included in what our cost will be.”

Because unemployment costs were factored into the budget, the district’s cost savings with First Student, Inc. in the first year are lower than the second and third year.

First Student has an office in Detroit at Michigan and Greenfield avenues, Pius said. He added, “They will have to follow all the state standards.”

With the board voting last Monday on outsourcing the bus drivers — as well as on custodial services earlier this spring — those positions were eliminated in the district, which was included in the 86 staff layoffs. 

Prior to the board’s vote on outsourcing pupil transportation, bus driver Cheryll Akers addressed the board. She said she has been affiliated with the district for more than 30 years as a student, mother, employee and volunteer.

“Van Dyke is my home,” she said through tears. “I feel like I am being evicted from my house at no fault of my own.”

As bus drivers, “We get up at 4:30 in the morning. We’re the first positive face some of the kids see each day,” she said, adding some drivers know the kids from preschool up until graduation. “Our pay is not such that is will make or break this (district.) There is no guarantee that (First Student) would actually offer us a job. Maybe we can come up with a solution together that will benefit us both.”

The board members did not remark on the layoffs or outsourcing during the “comments of Board of Education members” portion toward the end of the public meeting.

Other changes are in store for the district as well. Kennedy will close as an elementary school at the end of the school year. Developing a preschool program at the building is the plan. 

“It will allow us to bring in additional students to the district,” Pius. The matter will be brought to the school board “for final approval,” the superintendent said.

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