Fresno Unified’s labor agreement with the Service Employees Industries Union Local 521 was among the reasons why school buses were making hundreds of students tardy by as much as 40 minutes, district spokeswoman Nikki Henry said Monday.
Parent Chris Dowdy, whose seventh-grader son was arriving late so often that it was affecting his math grade, told GV Wire last week that the union was “taking kids hostage for some of their collective bargaining. They have now arranged that you’re going to have some extra cash.”
Dowdy said he learned about the union’s deal with the district from manager Paul Rosencrans, who was hired in October to oversee the troubled transportation department.
Rosencrans told trustees in a memorandum earlier this month that the district had signed a “side letter,” or contract amendment, on Jan. 5 with the union to collaborate on making the bus routes more efficient and improving on time performance. The side letter includes provision for a 5% pay increase for those drivers who will now qualify as “relief” drivers because of route changes, and in some cases the pay bump will be retroactive to the beginning of the school year.
The pay boost could cost the district an extra $120,000 this year, Henry said.
Henry said the prior labor contract and turmoil in department leadership were among the factors why buses were arriving late: “The collective bargaining agreement allows routes to be established and assigned once per year before the start of school. This year, turnover in Transportation Department leadership led to inefficient routes resulting in late delivery times. Other factors added to the problem, delaying a systematic solution.”
Fresno Unified’s former director of transportation was Ralph Meza III, who resigned Sept. 20, only six months after being named to the post. Two days later Fresno Unified posted an opening for the director of transportation job on the district’s human resources website.
Meza could not be reached for comment Monday.
Officials with SEIU Local 521 did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment.
On Tuesday, Adrian Villalobos, SEIU 521 FUSD chapter shop steward and a FUSD employee, acknowledged that drivers bid on routes at the beginning of the year based on seniority, and they can’t lose their route other than for disciplinary or safety reasons. But management has the power to make any necessary changes, including adding stops and setting starting and ending times, Villalobos said: “Our union can only advise on best practices from a bus drivers’ perspective.”
Computech Bus Routes Problematic
Computech Middle School, a magnet school that draws students from across the city, had “particularly” challenging bus routes, Henry said.
Also adding to the late buses was the state-mandated change in start times for middle and high schools, she said.
Changes are underway to make sure that students are delivered to school on time, Henry said. Extra routes have been added and delivery times adjusted by up to 15 minutes, she said.
The newly formed routing committee of bus drivers and dispatchers met Friday to finalize new routes, Henry said. Parents are being notified this week, and the new routes will be implemented starting next Monday.
Henry said the committee will continue to meet “at least monthly” to review routes and recommend any needed changes to keep buses delivering students on time.