PARADISE TOWNSHIP, MONROE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) – It’s been an 18-month long conversation in the Pocono Mountain School District. The school board on one side, support professionals and the community on the other.
“We appreciate everybody standing behind us. For the transportation department, here, it’s been hell for the last 18 months, especially just not knowing,” said Pocono Mountain Education Support Professionals president Dawn Cello. “Unfortunately we had to do away with transportation but we had to do what was best for everybody else too because we weren’t the only ones in the bargaining unit.”
After a year and a half, the Pocono Mountain school board and the education support professionals have come to a begrudging agreement on the outsourcing of district transportation.
Meeting after meeting left just two options.
“Option one would have been to keep transportation in-house but all of the support staff, roughly 400 people, would have to take a five-year pay freeze, plus pay 30% of their medical,” Cello noted. “It would cripple anyone in the district.”
Option two, which was made official in the February board meeting, outsourcing transportation to First Student, a Scotland-based company, headquartered in Ohio. A major blow to the transportation staff for the good of the roughly 300 other district support employees.
“The rest of the support staff did get their raise, an extra holiday and some other perks in there,” she added. “That’s along with retroactive pay (increases). In exchange for letting them do that, they did offer a small severance package for the bus drivers and mechanics.”
That’s not to say that all bus drivers are left without options. First Student is offering employment to those who would like to stay on, but insurance costs have forced most to look elsewhere.
“It might be a dollar or two more an hour more in pay but their insurance is a lot higher than what people are paying now. A lot of people don’t think they can afford to work for them,” said Cello.
School bus drivers and district parents like Christine Macaluso have worked the last 18 months thinking there was a brighter light at the end of the tunnel.
“I had hope the whole time that we were going to be able to keep it in-house,” she said. “I never thought that they would actually go ahead and do it.”
In late 2019, the district called for a fact-finder report where an independent third party recommended against outsourcing,citing that budget saving would not come from the transportation department.
The board voted twice to reject that report and insist that they will be saving more than four million dollars a year with first student.
The drivers and mechanics impacted by this agreement are now faced with a difficult decision.
“From the beginning, I’ve been hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. For me and my family, it’s just a very sad situation that it had to come to this,” added Macaluso.
Neither the school board or support professionals say this is a win-win scenario, but at least most of the uncertainty is clear as drivers, mechanics and the district move forward.