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Posted on Tue, May 25, 2010 : 8 a.m.

Ypsilanti school board delays vote on countywide busing plan

By Tom Perkins

Ypsilanti school board members Monday night said they need more time to consider a countywide transportation plan.

After a lengthy presentation and question-and-answer session with Washtenaw Intermediate School District representatives, the board tabled a resolution authorizing Ypsilanti Public Schools Superintendent Dedrick Martin to enter into an agreement joining the plan.


File photo

A special meeting to vote on the plan has been scheduled for June 7 at 7 p.m. in the board meeting room.

The county's 10 public school districts are considering joining the proposed county-wide busing organization the WISD is developing. Before Monday night's meeting, only Willow Run Community Schools had voted to join the organization.

WISD representatives told the board Monday night, that joining the transportation entity could save YPS $1.25 million annually. That figure constitutes approximately 34 percent of the district’s $3.5 million in transportation expenditures.

Jim Regan, a consultant with Transportation Strategies LLC, which is helping WISD develop the consolidated busing plan, laid out how a the arrangement would look and where the district would realize its savings.

He underscored the district’s transportation staff would largely remain in place.

“The intention is to maintain the cadre of drivers within the district,” Regan said.

But the district’s transportation staff - including drivers, aides and mechanics - would face significant wage and benefit cuts.

The drivers’ salaries would drop to a $13 per hour base, plus an additional 25 cents for each year of experience. The district’s drivers’ average earnings would drop 17 percent from $18.16 per hour to $14.96 per hour. Mechanics and aides would face similar pay cuts.

Under the proposal, transportation employees would also begin paying a 30-percent medical premium and see their annual deductible rise from $400 to $2,000.

Ypsilanti Support Staff Association President Kevin Fortune said he didn’t believe the proposal was fair to the transportation employees.

“We’re not asking for handouts or charity, but I don’t see how you can put that forward as a viable plan for them to live on,” he said.

Regan said the proposed wage scale was developed after examining compensation for other counties' transportation departments.

He said concessions must be made if the plan is to yield the proposed savings and allow WISD to keep local districts’ transportation departments intact.

“If you’re looking to save more money and respond to the cost reductions from the state, you have to look at salary and benefits,” Regan said

Board President David Bates pointed out that other staff and administration recently only took up to 5 percent wage reductions.

“That is a pretty significant number,” Bates said of the proposed 17-percent cut.

Regan said optimizing routing would account for roughly 25 percent of the average countywide savings, though no figure was available on how much that would represent in Ypsilanti. The biggest savings would come in the elimination of “deadhead miles,” a term for miles driven when no children are aboard the bus.

Next year’s routes would be determined by the district, but handled by the WISD transportation department in subsequent years.

Regan said the projected figures don't include potential savings from having kindergarten and first graders walk up to a half-mile to their bus stop. He said a recent study revealed that it costs the district roughly $1000 annually to bus individual children a quarter mile from a main road to their front door.

Transportation representatives from all 10 districts are working to develop the operational infrastructure for a consolidated busing plan. Each representative is on a team addressing standardization issues related to routing, maintenance or administration.

“We have a vision to bring all those 10 operating systems together to operate as one system,” Brian Marcel, a WISD representative, told the board.

Among the routing-related issues WISD must solve are standardizing GPS units, route optimization, inter-district routes and special needs transportation. Regan said optimizing special needs transportation would account for an average of one-sixth of the average savings countywide.

Maintenance issues include developing universal maintenance schedules and standards, bus specifications, maintenance facility organization and reducing the number of different fuels used. Countywide, transportation departments use five different fuel types purchased from 12 different vendors.

Should Lincoln Consolidated Schools join the transportation plan, its garage would serve as the main maintenance center in eastern Washtenaw County. Ypsilanti would house a smaller satellite garage. Marcel estimated 10 percent of the county’s mechanics could be laid off under the proposal. WISD estimates it will need one mechanic for every 25 buses.

Regan said he districts would sell their buses to WISD for $1. Should a district later decide to leave the entity, the buses would be sold back for $1, but buses will largely be driven in their respective districts by each district's own drivers.

The biggest administrative hurdle is developing a labor agreement. The county’s districts have 10 labor agreements among four unions and must develop a wage and benefit plan the districts can agree on. The countywide transportation entity would oversee labor relations and human resources and develop a uniform funding method.

Many of the teams’ ideas have already been presented to and approved by the county’s superintendents. Regan said ideas that received positive feedback from a March meeting with the superintendents have moved forward, though several key issues, like labor contracts and special needs busing, remain unresolved. The school boards’ votes on whether or not to participate have been requested no later than the second week in June to provide adequate implementation time before next school year. Regan said the team has also drafted a plan only including five of the county’s 10 districts.

Several board members said they need time to consider the plan.

“I’m not saying I’m for or against this, but I need more time to digest this information,” Trustee Sarah Devaney said.



Thu, May 27, 2010 : 9:27 a.m.

After reading this? You will find that no one can afford a $2000 deductible only making less then $14 an hour? If you have a child who needs medical care all the time, that is going to kill the family budget immediately. Kindergartners walking a half mile to a bus stop? O the parents are going to love that one. Especially if they drive their children to this stop to wait for the bus. Uh huh, that will make for one big traffic congestion problem for the bus driver. No seniority based on years worked determines who gets a driving route? That will fly very well with all the districts. Ann Arbor has always been seniority first. It is the way it should be. Not stand in line and hope to get a route. WISD is very unfocused and scattered in its thinking of how they are going to run things in September. Parents should be extremely concerned about how their children are going to get to school in September. WISD should take over special ed and let the districts take care of everything else. WISD is mainly special ed focused. As a driver? Can't wait to see how we bid for a run for September. Sounds promising...not.


Thu, May 27, 2010 : 8:11 a.m.

@timeatwork, have you ever been on a school bus? School bus driving is very specialized, highly stressful work. I think they earn every cent they make. And, while, yes, some unions abuse their power and are unreasonable, I have also seen situations in the past where unions protected workers from unreasonable demands by power-crazy administrators. The latter situations changed my thinking about unions and I realized why they exist. It would be great if they were no longer necessary, but that isn't the case.


Thu, May 27, 2010 : 7:08 a.m.

bus drivers make more than $13/hour? who knew? sure, the kids need to get to school but $18/hour to drive a bus? really?? Unions are outdated and need to be disbanded. line workers making $30/hour, bus drivers making $18? it has to stop.


Wed, May 26, 2010 : 6:48 p.m.

As a bus driver and also as a local union president. I find it very disheartening that districts would even consider this proposal the way it is currently being proposed. When asked what the administration wages would be, I was more or less told that they would be paid appropriately for the position. The ISD posted all of the drivers, mechanics, and aids wages, but not any of the administration wages. Also in the proposal that we saw, it called for a total of 507 employees including administration. That is a loss of drivers, mechanics, and aids, but an increase in administration. Amazing that they didn't want to give out the salaries of the administrators to us. Also, if a board of education votes to accept consolidation as currently proposed, it is a grave mishandling of public funds. To go into an agreement where there are so many unknowns is a total disregard for the communities in which they were elected.


Wed, May 26, 2010 : 11:27 a.m.

Thinking about what makes up the "Wages and Benefits" category. OKAY: 1) Hourly pay rate (obviously); 2) Benefits (like health & life insurance, sick and vacation time, etc., oviously); 3) Number of routes (reflected in total hours paid to drivers and monitors/aides); 4) Length of routes (reflected in total hours paid to drivers and monitors/aides). 5) etc.? The WISD reportedly has rerouted most or all of the special ed routes, but NONE of the general ed ones. They also admit that only gen ed runs with significant overlap would be rerouted. There are, to the educated guesser, few of these routes. 40% still pales in the face of a 60% reduction in hourly rates and health care coverage! There are probably ways to further reduce deadhead miles in Ann Arbor, and probably other districts (but they may have gone as far as they can in Ypsilanti, or other places, already). In fact, I know drivers and monitors could be part of an effort to identify this kind of savings, if the department really wanted to engage with employees for a mutually beneficial effort (but they don't, as far as anyone can tell). @CountryKate I really appreciate your supportive words for drivers and monitors/aides. You are right, the WISD plan is very disappointing.


Wed, May 26, 2010 : 10:01 a.m.

Tom, could you, perhaps, write a sidebar laying out how 40 percent of this savings is to be had through ways other than cutting salaries. Because I've been back through your story and I'm not seeing it. I also wonder how much of this route-cutting and deadhead-cutting is going to be practical. I certainly have trouble believing Kimberly Searcy, Ypsi's head of transportation, has not already done as much as possible to bring routes to maximum efficiency and bring deadheading to a minimum. Also, it is hard to find good drivers who are willing to work the crazy hours needed to be a school bus driver. Can our current drivers afford to stay with this mammoth pay cut? Will the county be able to attract good drivers - emphasis on the good? School bus drivers are so much more than mere chauffeurs. They are, really, ambassadors for the district, giving kids their first greeting in the morning and their send-off in the afternoon. I've seen kids get really upset when their regular driver gets changed or is off for vacation or illness. I've seen drivers notify school administrators that so-and-so is in crisis and needs help. I know all the districts need to save money. But, if this is the best WISD has to offer, then it's a huge disappointment. I'm glad the Ypsi board seems to realize how much harm this move could cause.


Tue, May 25, 2010 : 9:21 p.m.

How about this as a money saving idea? Get rid of the ISD. Would save the state tons of money.

i'm just wonderin

Tue, May 25, 2010 : 2:39 p.m.

ironyinthesky2, I agree that 17% is unfair. It seems like bus drivers are doing more than their share to solve the budget problem. What have teachers done? I'm not sayin they should take a 17% cut but have they taken any cut? This isn't fair because the teacher union isn't doing anything to help.

Tom Perkins

Tue, May 25, 2010 : 11:59 a.m.

Thanks, Emma. I made the correction.


Tue, May 25, 2010 : 11:59 a.m.

what if the 10 districts hired a consultant to help them with more practical routes? They could then negotiate with their drivers for concessions. 17% is unfair, especially if, as I'm guessing, the bus drivers are near the bottom of the salary food chain. Two of my children were really encouraged by their bus drivers, and I know of many drivers who really make a difference with kids. Why are we so willing to toss them to the curb? The school's financial problems are not the fault of the bus drivers, why are they being asked to make the biggest sacrifice! just askin'...


Tue, May 25, 2010 : 11:57 a.m.

These are my current thoughts on this evolving issue: The overall savings do not come from the elimination of "deadhead miles" or any other such operational expense, as Regan is claiming. The report, "Driving Innovation Into School Transport Operations," which was co-authored by Regan and is posted on the WISD website ( offers some raw financial data that paints a different picture. According to the report if the 5 core districts participate (AA, Lincoln, Whitmore Lake, Willow an Ypsilanti) the WISD can save a combined $4.25 million (of the combined $18.23 million budget). Deadhead miles and other operational costs account for 15% of that savings; from the vantage point of the individual district, this represents a 3% reduction on such spending. The rest of the overall savings --85% of the savings-- are directly derived from the "wages and benefits" category. The combined savings from cuts to wages and benefits is $3.62 million. This, from the standpoint of the individual district represents a 20% on such spending. The combined savings from operational costs is $630,000. If the elimination of "deadhead miles" is revealed in terms of reduced wage and fuel expenditures, then maybe Regan's 25% is a legitimate number, in and of itself. But in the context of job losses and the 17% wage cuts is where consolidation should be judged; no less than in the context of the preservation and/or improvement of services and level of service. We can eliminate deadhead miles without consolidating (mainly in general ed routes, less so in special ed routes). Will there be significant improvement in service with consolidation? Or, will consolidation provide a vehicle for preserving transportation where it may otherwise have to be eliminated? I agree with you, Kate: this "savings" is on the backs of workers. It's a very disproportionate take from those who already earn the least. And if the "40% from more efficient routes" etc. is accurate, we need to see it in real detail not just as an unsupported claim. Of course, more "efficient" routes are likely to be shorter routes, with reduced hours. Right? Ypsilanti has postponed the decision, as did Ann Arbor (abruptly taking the item off of the last meetings agenda, two weeks ago). Joi Jensen, Willow Run BOE trustee resigned her position after a heated debate concerning consolidation. The WISD's plan is still incomplete, and looking pretty half-baked. There are far too many unanswered questions, keeping Boards of Ed uncomfortable about moving forward. The question of labor agreements was not unanswered, though. As a union rep I was at a debriefing at the WISD. They clearly said that they would not recognize a contract or union right away. They will wait for workers to organize one, which can take months. They also said that they would not recognize driver and monitor/aide seniority in hiring or work distribution; and they refused to offer jobs on a "right of 1st refusal" basis (a condition that the AAPS appropriately included in it's Requests for Proposals to privatize bussing recently, which would have guaranteed jobs to current employees. Also, the retirement plans that consolidation "humanely" preserves would be altered and reduced if workers are "rehired" under pending (or possibly passed?) legislation in Lansing. Consolidation in the coming school year scares trustees, parents and staff. But if it's going to be viable at all, it needs to be seriously rethought, re-planned, and reformed. And, next time, workers should be part of the planning. This time, we were left out altogether; probably because they knew that we'd look for better ways to eliminate costs than simply gutting wages and benefits and busting our own unions.

Tom Perkins

Tue, May 25, 2010 : 11:13 a.m.

CountyKate, More efficient routes, including for special needs students, accounted for roughly 40-percent of the projected average savings countywide. Those numbers are in the story, just spread out over several paragraphs. Cost reductions through economy of scale and centralized management also represent minor savings.


Tue, May 25, 2010 : 10:55 a.m.

Seems to me the only savings would be on the backs of the employees. Which means the reason for this county-wise proposal is to break all those contracts with the 10 districts. Which seems sneaky, dirty and underhanded to me. Tell me, what am I missing here?

Emma Jackson

Tue, May 25, 2010 : 9:23 a.m.

Last night the YPS Board of Education did set a special meeting for 7 p.m. June 7, 2010 to vote on the transportation resolution.