June 05, 2019ALMONT — Despite emotional pleas from school bus drivers and a last-ditch effort by AESPA representative Marty Zmiejko to negotiate a mutually satisfactory deal, Almont School Board members voted 4-1 on Thursday, May 30, to enter into a five-year contract for school transportation services with Dean Transportation of Lansing.
With Board President Paul Bowman absent, in a roll call vote, Board members Jennifer Mitchell, John Mills, Jill O'Neil and John Brzozowski voted in favor of a motion to contract with Dean.
Board member Michael Sullivan cast the lone vote opposing the motion, while board member Dallas Walton abstained from voting, because his wife is employed with the district.
Zmiejko's proposal to the Board included concessions that included a one-year wage freeze for drivers; the elimination of two bus routes via attrition; and removal of an existing attendance incentive; all of which would translate to an immediate savings of $109,252.
Even a Plan B offered by Zmiejko which included a wage reduction was not enough to convince the Board to reconsider.
The Board had intended to vote on the issue on May 20, but agreed to postpone the vote until Thursday to give AESPA members an opportunity to negotiate further.
Karen Klos offers impassioned argument on behalf of current Almont bus drivers.
Almont Schools Finance Administrator Barb Potter acknowledged the efforts of the bus drivers for doing what they could to save the district money.
Nevertheless, it was her position that the district will save more and be better positioned financially for the future by contracting with Dean.
Potter reiterated that current Almont bus drivers will be offered employment with Dean at pay rates "equal to" or "greater than" what they currently earn.
She added that drivers who choose to sign on with Dean will retain their seniority, receive paid days off and be eligible for the company's 401-K plan and a 80/20 health insurance plan with Priority Health.
Under the terms of the new agreement, Dean will assume the $479,000 cost of leasing 18 buses from Holland Bus Company, whose contract with Almont Schools expires June 30, 2020.
The ramifications of the Board's decision will continue to unfold in the coming months.
On Monday, June 3, Zmiejko said the majority of current AESPA drivers are weighing their future options.
"It looks like most of them are looking at other options before considering Dean as their only option," said Zmiejko. "I also know of one or two that are looking at Dean as their first option.
"It will be interesting to see how it all plays out," he continued. "I'm wondering how this is going to affect the district's parapros (paraprofessionals) in the future."
The AESPA, which includes the district's paraprofessionals, approved a three-year contract with Almont Schools in August of 2017. That contract expires on June 30, 2020.
Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.