Bethel Park residents object to option of outsourcing bus drivers

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Discussion about the possibility of outsourcing Bethel Park School District's transportation services led to a lengthy round of objections during Tuesday's school board meeting.

The district and the union representing its bus drivers have been negotiating a contract since 2011. Donna Cook, school board president, acknowledged that the district has been seeking proposals from private transportation providers as a potential cost-saving measure.

"No decision has been made to contract our services with an outside company," she assured those in attendance before the meeting's public comments period.

Numerous audience members, including district transportation employees who live in Bethel Park, parents and other members of the community, expressed displeasure at the notion of outsourcing.

Several cited concerns about safety, saying that they trust the current drivers more than situations that might arise with an outside company.

"Bethel Park bus drivers and aides provide quality," said Michael Scott of Brightwood Road, noting that such employees help set the tone for a student's school day. He and his wife, Anna Marie, are parents and 22-year residents of the municipality.

"Do not let the quality go down, please," Mrs. Scott implored the board.

Helen Hardinger of Marilynn Drive, a school bus driver who identified herself as a Bethel Park taxpayer for 40 years, mentioned risks that come with choices made for financial reasons.

"Unfortunately, this risk comes with a twist," she said. "If you make this decision to outsource, you might not be able to reverse it."

She pointed out that the district contracted with an outside company for janitorial services in the 1990s but later returned to in-house employees.

"How are you going to do that when you sell off your assets?" she asked. "I don't think you're going to be able to reverse it if it doesn't work."

Ms. Hardinger also said 65 percent of transportation department employees live in Bethel Park, and outsourcing would put local residents out of work.

"I think you need to give that some serious consideration," she told the board.

Larry Shaw of Monongahela Avenue, a soccer coach the district hired as a driver last year, said outsourcing might save money in the short term, but there are other considerations.

"I know a lot of the kids, and they are very unhappy about the risks of losing their bus drivers," he said. "Please reconsider the proposed outsourcing of the drivers' contract."

For their part, the school board members reminded those in attendance that they have the community's best interests in mind. But in the next few months, they also must find a way to cut about $1.8 million in expenditures from the 2013-14 budget.

"There isn't anything you said out there that I didn't say as a parent, and now as a grandparent," longtime board member Connie Ruhl told the audience. "No matter what we mention, there's a group that says, oh, no, you can't cut in my backyard."

Cynthia Buckley, another school board member, agreed.

"We are trying to do this and not make people unhappy, but that's not going to happen," she said.

Board members expressed appreciation for the public's input and asked for more feedback as the budget process unfolds.

"Please continue this. Come to more meetings," said Director Tim Campbell. "Let us know your thoughts and feelings."

education - neigh_south

Harry Funk, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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