Crowd at D9 budget review on transportation

On Wednesday, Nov. 9, a group of people, estimated at approximately 100, answered the call of the Eagle Point Education Association to gather at the District- 9 school board workshop and meeting.  Outside the meeting, representatives of the association distributed stickers and pamphlets opposing contracting transportation services.  The large numbers filled the room with standing room only left.

The purpose of the workshop was to review the calendar, present a required policy revision for review, supply details of the Middle School Intramural Program and have a budget discussion regarding transportation issues. An invitation was given to all to attend the D-9 Foundation dessert auction on Dec.1 and the next workshop and board meeting on Dec. 14.

Doug McKenzie, Principals Lambert and Parsons and Coaches Alexander, Herzog and Stormberg discussed the new intramural programs, which were put in place this year.  The soccer program, volleyball program and partnership with Pop Warner football were reviewed.  All programs are proving to be successful with good participation.  There is more involvement but the change results in less individual coaching than in the past because of the participation.  This program is an extension of the physical education program but outside the normal school day.

Superintendent Rickert began the discussion on the budget and transportation issues.  She explained that the budget is an ongoing subject for discussion as there is a $1.855 million deficit projected for this year.  Thus, all areas of expenses must be investigated.  The topic at this meeting is the cost of transportation and comparisons with other districts and not contracting.  However, all options must be on the table to protect the quality of education and the taxpayers’ investment.  She stated she was glad to see the interest and is happy to have participation.

Business Manager Scot Whitman reviewed the district financial projections, which show the $1.855 deficit for this year and $1.3 for 2012/2013.  He explained that there can be no continuation of spending more than is taken in.  He pointed out that even with previous staff reductions, projected employee expenses are increasing by over $1million due primarily to benefit cost increases.

Whitman reviewed transportation data comparisons with neighboring districts, which show that the percent of riders in D-9 at 47.6% is most similar to those of Central Point 45.3%, Grants Pass 42.4%, Medford 42.5% and Phoenix /Talent 48.8%.  Spending as a percentage of general fund dollars range from a low of 3.8% at Grants Pass to a high of 6.4% at Central Point with D-9 at 4.7%.  The Central Point percentage is reflective of costs prior to this year when a contractor was employed.  District 9 cost per rider is $764, which appears to be competitive.  Grants Pass is at $651 Medford at $732 and Phoenix/Talent at $936.

The D-9 transportation department consists of four fulltime employees, including a supervisor, administrative assistant and two mechanics, plus 24 part time drivers, who receive full benefits if they work more than four hours per day.  This results in benefit costs higher than wages for the drivers.  If benefits were prorated, there would be a potential savings of $129,315 for the district.  Proration is a proposal in ongoing contract negotiations.  Even if there were agreement to this proposal, benefit costs would remain high compared to private industry, which might range from 40-50% of wages. 

Audience members submitted written questions that were addressed by  Whitman and Transportation Supervisor Reimer as follows:
·    No consultant has been hired to study contracting transportation.
·    There have been cost savings in the transportation group during the past three years of approximately $75,000.  The goal is to reduce expenses by 5% per year.
·    Driver wages range from $11.70 to $16.53 per hour.
·    In reviewing options, quality and safety are always considered.
·    In reviewing savings, maintenance cannot be delayed, as safety of students is most important.
·    The last new bus purchased was in 2009.  More money has been spent on equipment in the past 10 years than has been received from the state reimbursement for depreciation.

At the regular board meeting, a motion was made to approve the agenda as written.  Mr. Mannenbach objected and indicated that the approval of previous minutes should be included.  After a short discussion, the agenda was approved with Mr. Mannenbach and Mr. Bateman opposing.

Student Representatives Loresa Mayfield and Tyler Downing gave their reports regarding the activities at Eagle Point High School.  Eagle Rock Elementary Principal Hedrick introduced 4th grade teacher Linda Saling who recognized Kaya Crosby for her outstanding contributions.  He then introduced 5th grade teacher Troy Thorne who recognized Georgia Rojas-Kerbow for her outstanding contributions.  Principal Hedrick then gave special recognition to Thorne who had been selected by his peers for his performance.

At the public forum, the subject remained transportation.  Mechanic Mark Wyatt indicated he was proud of the Eagle Point Transportation group because of safety and low costs.  He recommended that the district not consider contracting but use the depreciation schedule to purchase new buses.  A number of drivers explained their dedication to the job and especially the children.  They indicated that there is an amazing team of drivers who have relationships with the students, their families and the community, which are things that would be lost if a contractor were hired.  They cited relationships with special education students that were very important and shouldn’t be lost. 

The president of the Eagle Point Education Association, Brian Hall, continued the transportation theme in his report.  He utilized the David Letterman top ten technique to make his points.  He stated that the contractor utilized by surrounding districts is awful, subcontracting would put the safety of students in the hands of a for profit company and cost savings can not be guaranteed. The drivers are a part of the learning process for students and they are devoted and dedicated.  They know and care about the students, their families and the community. Hall continued that local jobs should stay local and local tax dollars should stay here.

Rickert gave her report that centered on the Four Characteristics of Improved School Districts, the progress made in D-9 and board involvement in the process.  She indicated that to assist the board in staying up to date, performance statistics are posted in the boardroom.

Whitman explained that the district is on budget, which is good but continues the deficit previously shown, so all methods of savings must be considered.  He indicated that Hillside Elementary is approximately 70% complete and on schedule and budget.

Information regarding new state regulations and required changes in policies was included in the packet for possible action at the next meeting.  The consent calendar, support for a representative for position 5 of the Oregon School Boards Association legislative policy committee and approval of a change to the OSBA constitution to allow consecutive terms for the secretary/treasure were passed unanimously.  A suggested amendment to the OSBA constitution was tabled to the next meeting so it could be studied.
By Bill Fierke
for the Independent


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