Bus driver Thom Gilsdorf knows times are tough for the Central Point School District, but believes the district will put people like him out of work if it decides to retire its fleet and hire a contractor to transport kids to and from school.

Bus driver Thom Gilsdorf knows times are tough for the Central Point School District, but believes the district will put people like him out of work if it decides to retire its fleet and hire a contractor to transport kids to and from school.

Gilsdorf was among a handful of concerned bus drivers and Oregon School Employee Associate officials who attended Tuesday night's Central Point School Board meeting.

Neither the drivers or their union representatives spoke at the meeting.

OSEA organizer Jedd Rivera, who along with the others in his group wore union T-shirts to the meeting, said he intended to keep the issue in the public eye until the district decides whether to contract with First Student Bus Services.

Contracting could save the district at least $50,000 in salaries and benefits, $380,000 in buying new buses and 5 to 10 percent in material costs, district officials said. The district currently pays about $2.5 million to operate its own fleet.

The Medford and Talent-Phoenix school districts contract with First Student Bus Services.

Gilsdorf said he worked for the company when he drove a bus for Medford. He was not impressed.

"I can't afford to work for a contractor," he said. "When a job came open in Central Point, I didn't waste any time applying for it."

Gilsdorf receives Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) benefits at Central Point. He said First Student offers benefits, but they are too expensive.

"I only work 5 and a half hours a day," he said. "At First Student, with their benefits, it doesn't pay for me to work there."

Cindy Drought, an OSEA field representative, said private contractors have been known to enter low bids, only to raise prices for their services later.

"Our analysts have found that districts don't end up saving money in the long run with contractors," she said.

The problem for the district is that it faces a gaping $5 million budget shortfall and needs to make immediate cuts to close it.

Should the district decide to contract with First Student, the 38 current bus drivers would get the first chance at the jobs.

However, Drought said many of the drivers in their union would most likely look for new work.

"This would cause high turnover," Rivera said.

Drought said the district enjoys high-quailty bus drivers who are loyal and have worked for the district for 20 years.

"They have seen the kids from kindergarten to graduation," Drought said. "They come to really care about the children. You won't have that will high turnover rates, where drivers are coming and going."

First Student is among three companies bidding on the contract, Drought said. As the largest of the three, it would most likely receive the contract, she said.

The School Board will decide the issue on the June 14 meeting.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.