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Ypsilanti Public Schools' Board of Education will be holding a special meeting next month to consider the decision to adopt a county-wide bus consolidation plan.
"Shame on you" echoed through the audience Monday night after the Ypsilanti Public Schools Board of Education approved a plan to join a countywide consolidated transportation plan headed by Washtenaw Intermediate School District.
"We have an obligation on the board to get to a balanced budget, and by my last reckoning that meant finding somewhere in our budget – finding $6 million," said Board President David Bates before the vote. "If we don’t make this a part of the plan, I don’t see how we’re not going to be making worse cuts of a different nature in some other place."
The controversial motion, which administrators estimate will save the district $1.25 million, or nearly 35 percent of its transportation budget, passed by a vote of five to two, with trustees Andrew Fanta and Kira Berman dissenting.
According to a presentation last month by Transportation Services, LLC, a consulting service that helped to create the consolidation plan, nearly 78 percent of the savings to the district would come from cuts to wages and benefits to transportation staff, meaning staff would incur wage cuts of up to 17 percent.
An Ypsilanti bus driver making $18.13 an hour would be reduced to $14.95 per hour under the WISD plan. Mechanics, who currently earn an average wage of $23.29, would make $21 an hour at WISD. Bus aides in Ypsilanti currently earn an average of $12.92 and would earn $11.46 an hour at the WISD.
"I wanted very much to be able to support [the consolidation plan] because saving 35 percent is a lot, and I understand the financial imperative this district is facing," Berman said. "However, as much as I support the idea of consolidation and the notion that we can do better, I will not and I cannot support this plan. This is unthinkable, unfair and unjust, and not only to our drivers."
Berman said the health care plan proposed for transportation staff was "terrible." Currently, Ypsilanti Schools transportation staff contribute nothing to their medical coverage. WISD's plan would see employees pay up to 30 percent of their monthly premium, which could be up to $290 for a single employee, and up to $830 for a family. In addition, the plan would include annual deductibles of $2,000 for an individual and $4,000 for families.
During the meeting, Fanta laid out a potential budget for a woman with two children working under the plan.
"This person, a member of the working poor, is running a negative balance of $578 a month. That’s the real world," he said. "How can we do this to members of this community? I think it's wrong, wrong, wrong."
At least 15 teachers, bus drivers and district residents spoke against the plan at the special meeting, which was attended by more than 100 people. No one spoke in favor of the consolidation.
“The money you sit there and spend on this proposal, you could save money by negotiating with us and all the other employees,” said Craig Lambert, a bus driver for the district.
As approved, the plan will streamline transportation services for all participating districts by standardizing buses and parts, centralizing administration and routing technology, and controlling personnel costs through cuts to pay and benefits. The program will be under the umbrella of Washtenaw Intermediate School District, although only Willow Run and Ypsilanti Public Schools have signed on to join the consolidation so far.
Transportation staff for Ypsilanti Schools would be laid off and then re-hired by WISD; however, current staff members are not guaranteed a position.
Several attendees at the meeting cited safety of children. The district has set a half-mile maximum for students to walk to stops, although many of those in the audience cited a mile-and-a-half maximum during comments.
"So many of the families that entrust their children to us do not have the capability to get their children to school safely. They work multiple jobs. They do not have transportation. Many are homeless. I think it is safe to say that not one of you up there, not one of you - would allow very young children to walk to school or home from school in many of the communities or many of the areas within our community that we all know are very dangerous and truly unsafe," said Mary Manchester, an employee at Ypsilanti Public Schools. "You have to consider the people that trust Ypsilanti Schools and are invested in Ypsilanti schools will not continue to support Ypsilanti Schools if this is what you decide to do."