Outsourcing may not happen for school bus drivers, custodians

Thousands of school bus drivers and custodians who have been worried for months that the Clark County School District might outsource their jobs can start to breathe a sigh of relief.

A consultant recommended in early September that the district, which has been struggling to close a $56 million hole in its budget, outsource bus driver and custodian positions beginning next school year if the support staff's Education Support Employees Association refused to make concessions, including a pay freeze.

Gibson Consulting Group recommended the district eliminate 1,522 in-house custodians and hire a private firm for an annual savings of $10.4 million. Outsourcing bus driver jobs would save the district $36 million over five years. The district's fleet consists of about 1,500 buses.

But it may not come to that, according to union president and lead negotiator John Carr, who said in a Thursday interview that the union and district have reached a tentative agreement on support staff's contract terms for the current school year and 2012-13. Negotiators started writing up contract language on Monday, he said.

Carr said he couldn't elaborate on the terms until the contract is submitted to the Clark County School Board and also his members for approval, which may happen before Thanksgiving.

A majority of union members must approve the contract, but Carr isn't concerned. The contract will be "monumental for support staff" and achieve some firsts for workers, he said.

"We've given up nothing that we enjoy today," he said.

As for the outsourcing issue, Carr couldn't reveal the details but said support staff will be "pleasantly surprised."

"The Gibson report will no longer be hanging over the heads of any support staff," he said. "The fear will disappear."

Bus drivers, like Carr, and custodians have spoken at nearly every School Board meeting since the report's September release, asserting that outsourcing would put students at risk because the district wouldn't be screening workers as they do now. Also, employees can't focus on their work now because they fear their jobs will soon be privatized.

The union's next goal is to increase membership, he said. The support staff union is dangerously close to the minimum required to have a union and collectively bargain for workers. Union membership has to remain above 50 percent for the organization to retain its role as a bargaining group.

About 6,000 of the district's 11,000 support staff employees, or 55 percent, now belong to the association. That's down from five years ago when it had 7,500 members, Carr said.

Other labor groups have been trying to woo support staff union members away this year to create more specific unions for drivers, custodians and assistants.

If support staff fragments into several unions, "we will be subject to the whims and desires of the Clark County School District," Carr wrote to support staff in April.

The district can't confirm whether a tentative contract has been reached with support staff, said spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson, but negotiations are proceeding and the hope is to conclude them soon.

It took nine meetings for support staff and the district to reach a tentative accord. However, the district's largest union, which represents teachers, called it quits after four meetings, the minimum required to declare impasse and move into arbitration, meaning a judge will decide contract terms.

The bargaining groups for administrators and school police have already arrived at contracts, agreeing to concessions that save the district about $3.5 million. Should the support staff agreement be approved, teachers will be the lone group of district employees fighting for a contract, something that may not be resolved until early 2012.

Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@review journal.com or 702-383-0279.