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Business loss, layoffs worry employees

CEO says agency had first layoffs in a long time
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Recent layoffs, loss of business and noontime board meetings have some employees of Mid-Placer Public Schools Transportation Agency concerned. “There are layoffs – that’s not the biggest concern,” Kaaren Galvin, job steward for the agency, said. “The biggest concern is the employees have some ideas and would like to be included to go to the board meetings. The board is not making it possible for them to do that. These are public meetings the board has scheduling during the week at noon.” The agency serves the Placer Union High School, Loomis Union High School, Colfax Elementary School, Ackerman and Alta-Dutch Flat school districts. Mid-Placer is a not-for-profit joint powers authority that is viewed as a state agency. It was formed in 1979 by the school districts it provides service to in hopes of creating a consolidated bus service, according to Martin Ward, Mid-Placer chief executive officer. Doug Marquand, president of the governing board for Mid-Placer, said he hasn’t heard any strong concerns from the agency’s Chapter 580 of the California School Employees Association. “They have done 12 o’clock noon meetings … actually since 1986,” Marquand said. “There hasn’t been an outcry from CSEA to change the meetings or even come and be involved in the meetings.” Several of the board members are also superintendents and need to leave later hours free for other meetings, Marquand said. Janet Duncan, public relations representative for Chapter 580 disagrees. She said agency board meetings should be held at a time that is reasonable for community members to attend and speak if they want to. “It seems like it’s a public entity, and the public should be able to participate in the process,” Duncan said. “And when half of our employees can’t come, I think it’s a real disservice to the district. To me that’s just common sense.” Fourteen Mid-Placer employees received layoff notices that were effective in June, according to Ward. “We have reduced by almost 20 employees,” Ward said. “Our first layoff in an extremely long time (was) last August.” Effect on schools Ward said Mid-Placer worked with the Placer County Office of Education to offer special transportation to Western Placer Unified School District in Lincoln and Dry Creek Joint Elementary School District in Roseville. However, the office of education decided to cut ties with Mid-Placer, and the agency will no longer work with these districts, according to Ward. General bus service at Bowman Charter School was also recently discontinued, and the agency now only provides transportation for special-needs students at the campus, Ward said. Michael Belles, a Bowman Charter School trustee, said the discontinued bus service affects about 500 children, the current enrollment at the school, but that the actual impact is very small. “It impacted very few because only a very small percentage actually rode the bus,” Belles said. Belles said the service was discontinued to save money. “It was a cost-saving measure, yes,” he said. “There was a charge to ride the bus, and most families elected to bring their kids to school and pick them up.” A new traffic-management system has been put into place at the school, Belles said. “We do have (traffic) congestion, but the staff pulled together to have the traffic pull through in a safe manner, and the parents are cooperating and it works for us,” Belles said. Joyce Lopes, assistant superintendent of business for Western Placer Unified School District, said Mid-Placer was only providing buses to its special-need students, because the district was providing its own general busing. Western Placer found itself with the resources to provide busing to students with special needs, so it no longer needed Mid-Placer’s service, Lopes said. “We’re providing them the same routes, the same pickups,” she said. “What we have heard back from the parents is the transition has gone quite smoothly.” Future of Mid-Placer Ward said with the loss of business, layoffs were necessary. Duncan said the mission of the union is not to put down the agency or the board, but to find a solution to offer more children bus service and possibly hire back employees who have been laid off. The union hopes to initiate workshops where the agency’s employees can suggest ideas to the board, Duncan said. “There are people there with 30 years experience, and I think they could add a lot,” she said. “We kind of want to get involved in the process.” Marquand said there are a couple of reasons why the workshops haven’t worked out in the past. “We weren’t able to coordinate a calendar schedule with all the board members there,” Marquand said. “It sounded like the workshop was more a way for them to negotiate outside that (negotiating) table.” Marquand said union members could always talk to Ward about their problems and ideas. “They would go to the CEO and they can express their concerns to him,” Marquand said. “Perhaps if they address those to the CEO, he would have a better idea of their predicament.” Ward said a tentative verbal agreement in negotiations has been reached by the agency and the union. Bus driver salaries start at $13.64 an hour and peak at $16.29 an hour with increases for employment longevity. This agreement would keep salaries the same as previous years. Chapter President Nancy Tracy said Thursday afternoon with the potential agreement the union just wants to move forward and hopefully still hold the workshops to develop ideas about new business. “I know from the union’s perspective our hope is to continue further dialogue with the agency and the governing board,” Tracy said. “(Business is) getting smaller and smaller. We basically want to work with the governing board and the schools in the community and bring Mid-Placer back to what its intention was in the beginning.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com