Central Dauphin School District, bus drivers' union at odds over outsourcing

The Patriot News

by Mary Klaus

on April 04, 2010 at 8:25 PM, updated April 05, 2010 at 8:55 AM - Christian Malesic wants taxpayers to know that the Central Dauphin School Board isn’t wasting money in the board’s outsourcing of transportation, a dispute that has dominated school board meetings for nine months.

Malesic, the board president, says that the board voted to outsource transportation “so we could save the taxpayers $12 million over five years.”

He said savings include $2.2 million from sale of the bus fleet to Durham School Services; $775,000 each year in operational costs; and the rest in what it would have cost to repair and replace the fleet of aging buses.

The district buses average 13 years of age, which Malesic called the “life expectancy” of a school bus.

The district will see savings despite its ongoing legal battles with the Central Dauphin Bus Drivers Association, the union that represents the district’s 130 bus drivers, Malesic said.

“To date, our legal fee for privatizing transportation is about $170,000, which we pay from the $2.2 million from the sale of the buses,” he said. “Even with that, the savings still come to $11.8 million. But the taxpayers will only realize savings once the union stops using the legal system to delay a settlement.”

Asked about the district leasing buses that the district owned and sold to Durham, Malesic said that wasn’t planned.

“We had a 16-day transition plan to go from Central Dauphin doing the busing to Durham,” Malesic said. “During that time, Durham interviewed and hired our bus drivers and mechanics. Durham gave us a check for the buses. We transferred bus ownership to Durham.”

When Durham was one business day away from taking over the transportation system, Dauphin County Court Judge Richard Lewis issued an injunction ordering the district to halt the outsourcing.

Malesic said the district and Durham entered into a leasing arrangement in which the district pays Durham $79,131, the monthly cost of depreciation, each month from Feb. 1 through June 1.

“[The district] is not using taxpayer money to pay Durham the leasing fee,” Malesic said. “We pay it out of the $2.2 million from the bus sale. And we are gaining interest on that $2.2 million.”

Malesic said the school board has tried its best to come to a resolution with the union.

“But it takes two to tango,” he said. “Since all this started, we gave the union three settlement offers that they rejected. We never got a counter-offer from them. We spend 30 to 90 minutes every executive session talking about this thing. We are trying like heck to work this out.”

The school district has been wasting taxpayer money ever since it started the outsourcing transportation process, said Eric Epstein, the bus drivers’ union agent.

While the school board president and district officials said they favor outsourcing to save money, union officials said the district’s legal bills, administrative fees and bus leasing charges have done just the opposite in the months that the legality of the outsourcing has been in dispute.

“The savings have evaporated,” Epstein said. “The district never factored legal fees, administration costs and the lease back of buses into that savings.”

Using information obtained from Right to Know requests, Epstein said that Rhoads & Sinon of Harrisburg, the school district’s law firm, billed the district for $205,186 from May 2009 to January for its legal work in the dispute. That fee is considerably higher than the $170,000 in legal bills that the school board president revealed.

“The district has refused to disclose the amount of money or time the administration has spent on court preparation and legal appearances, meetings with Durham, deal-making and strategy sessions,” Epstein said.

He said the school district’s lease of buses for $79,131 a month it sold to Durham School Services for $2.2 million will come to $395,655 by the end of June.

Epstein said the legal bills continue to rise, because on March 8 and 9, the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board held hearings at the district’s request in which two attorneys from Rhoads & Sinon and two administrators “were present and being paid.”

The district requested another hearing, scheduled Wednesday, to cross-examine Epstein, “although the district doesn’t recognize me as the bus drivers’ business agent,” Epstein said. He said the district also scheduled Mark Harrington, Durham’s director of business development, to testify.

The labor board, the state Bureau of Mediation and the state fact finder have said Act 88, the state collective bargaining law, applies to the dispute, Epstein said. The district contends that Act 195, the public school bargaining law, which has a shorter procedure to be followed, should apply.

The union, Epstein said, has focused on “preserving the sanctity of our contract.” The school district’s contract with the bus drivers expires June 30, 2011. Union officials repeatedly have said the district must honor its contract.