PARADISE TOWNSHIP, MONROE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — 16 months of discussion has one school district at a boiling point over more than 200 jobs.
Related Link: Bus Driver Absences Close Pocono District for Second Day
It’s school board vs. bus drivers. It was a heated Pocono Mountain School Board meeting and there’s still plenty of unrest when it comes to the transportation situation.
“You may think that subcontracting the transportation department may be low-hanging fruit to buy you time, but you should remember that the number one priority of this board is not the taxpayers. It’s the students,” concerned citizen Rick Franzo said.
It’s been almost a year and a half that the Pocono Mountain School District has been in talks with the Pocono Mountain Education Support professionals over cutting the costs of transportation.
“The negotiations have been very respectable the entire time. I can say, from Pennsylvania State Educators Association’s (PSEA) standpoint that we’ve been bargaining in good faith and trying to reach a deal. We’ve been agreeing to several concessions. The factfinder’s report actually has quite a few concessions on behalf of the employees,” PSEA spokeswoman Jessica Sabol said.
Roughly one month ago, the school district called for an independent, third-party factfinder report to figure out which would be more cost-effective: outsourcing or bargaining with the current union. But a stalemate at the bargaining table has led to uncertainty for drivers.
It has even led to driver shortages, which the district cites as the reason for school not opening on Wednesday. This has also led to a motion for outsourced substitute bus drivers at Wednesday night’s meeting.
“The contract tonight is to get us through the daily operations, regardless of the decision that this board makes. I need to get drivers to get my children to school. That’s what the contract is on, for this board to vote on,” superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Robinson said.
For the school district, it’s dollars and sense. For the drivers, it’s a livelihood, but both sides agree the children are the priority.
“As a taxpayer, if you ask me if you can raise my taxes so that my kids can get to the school safely? Any day, I’ll pay more,” bus driver Steven Ramsey said.
With the board rejecting the factfinder report for a second time and tensions mounting, the conversation may come to a close sooner rather than later.
“I think everybody would agree we either need to or not to move on,” board president Rusty Johnson said.
The Wednesday night votes certainly don’t put an end to the conversation, but they do bring both sides back to the table under uncertain terms.
The Pennsylvania State Educators Association has plans to file a grievance with the district as they say even substitute outsourcing goes against their drivers’ current agreement.