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Letter: Stop the Madness

By the time this letter is published, the vote will be over. I assume, given the school board’s repeated false claims that outsourcing has saved us money, that the proposition to purchase buses was defeated. This matter is far from over however.

We are no closer to a solution today than we were four years ago after the school board illegally fired the bus drivers. But like a child who fails to learn from its mistakes, the board continues on its same course of action. Instead of taking responsibility for this disaster and trying to find a solution, the board concocted a proposition that was sure to fail. The board’s actions are leading us to further litigation and even more backpay, interest, legal fees and other costs. What a waste! We need to fix this mess!

The district’s alleged savings from outsourcing are false. In the district’s piece in the Manhasset Press last week, it admitted that the savings they have been claiming over the past four years is based upon what the union cost would have been based upon “the average actual configuration of the fleet and staff used by Huntington Coach to perform the contract.” Really? Did you know that the district was busing students with 40 personnel but Huntington has averaged 66? It appears that they are using this method to inflate what the union cost would have been and may be in the future. Who came up with this method? Apparently, our “industry expert” from the bus industry hired by the management side law firm we have been using to avoid reinstating the in-house system. Although we have had some increase in enrollment, it is not enough to justify the increased personnel used by Huntington Coach.

The board has also been promoting its outsourcing position by claiming that Huntington Coach can only raise its cost by the CPI but do the taxpayers know that they also get paid additional money if they add routes and drivers, which they did soon after they snagged the contract?

The board is also downplaying the millions of dollars the taxpayers must pay in backpay, frontpay, interest, legal fees, and consultant fees. Although it is hard to get accurate estimates, the board itself is admitting that the backpay may be $2.5 million per year for each of the last 4 years. That only makes me think it is much higher. And if we do not find a solution, we have to offer comparable jobs and pay the $2.5 million (more? less?) for an indefinite number of years into the future.

Do the taxpayers also know that we have been paying two superintendents over the past four years because of this debacle? We have been employing Dr. Shine, who was supposed to be an interim super, and Mr. Cardillo for the past 4+ years. Somewhere in there, we also paid off the prior super, Dr. Bozzomo, who left before the end of his contract. Millions of additional dollars wasted.

Do the taxpayers know that in the first summer that we outsourced, we awarded the contract to Huntington Coach but were sued by the actual low bidder, so we paid them too?

The district has been representing that even if they have to hire back the 39 employees in comparable jobs, this cost will “diminish as time goes by” because the jobs are the property of the employee. Having practiced labor and employee benefits law for both management and unions, this is far from clear. Interestingly, the district published a statement in January 2008 regarding a settlement with one former MESPA member. It stated “Recently one of the three former employees accepted the school district’s proposal and will receive back pay, front pay and pension credit in exchange for a release and a waiver of any right to reinstatement with the school district. MESPA has also agreed to waive irrevocably its right to the settling employee’s job.” As far as we know, the union has not agreed to relinquish the comparable jobs in the future. The board is underestimating and hiding the true cost of the comparable work option going forward.

The board has no idea what the final bill for this fiasco will be. And after all this, the board still has the audacity to claim that they have saved us money! Incredible! This fiasco will impact our school budget and taxes.

The original October 2006 PERB Order required the district to restore the transportation system and rehire the bus drivers.

After the school district appealed, in April 2009, the court upheld PERB’s Order but found that “Because petitioner has already sold its buses and leased it garage, compliance with the order may require taxpayer approval, which may or may not be forthcoming and could be delayed by the petitioner’s contractual obligations.” The court remanded to PERB for another remedy.

The July 2009 PERB Order states the district must: “Cease and desist from unilaterally transferring to nonunit employees the work of employees in the bargaining unit represented by MESPA including unit work consisting of the transporting of students….” It also says we must restore all such subcontracted transportation services, reinstate unit members with back wages, benefits and interest. We also must negotiate in good faith with the union concerning the terms and conditions of employment. In addition, it says that in the event that restoration of the unit work to unit employees is impossible due to taxpayer disapproval of the purchase of buses and other equipment necessary to restore the unit work, make comparable work available to all displaced unit members, without loss of work to any current unit employees, or pay the displaced employees back wages and benefits, with interest, less interim earnings, until such time as comparable unit work becomes available.

I believe this decision requires the district to make a good faith effort to present a real proposal to the community. It does not appear that the board has tried hard enough to find a solution. We must not blindly accept the board’s interpretation of how it must comply. After all this time, the board has not found a way to resolve this situation and it is costing us millions of dollars per year.

It is not too late to save our schools. We need to examine all the options and seek a real resolution of this matter. The schools, taxpayers, and former employees are being held hostage by the board’s irresponsible actions. Our curriculum and future budgets are in jeopardy. Come to the board of education meeting on Dec. 17, call or send an email to the board. Your tax dollars and the future of our schools are at stake!

Chris Sessa Allen