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Central Point district considers changing bus service

The Central Point School District may retire its school bus fleet and join other Jackson County school districts that contract with First Student School Bus Services as another way to offset a $5 million budget shortfall.

The School Board on Tuesday approved advertising a request for proposals from First Student and other companies that might offer the same service, though First Student would likely have an advantage as the nation's largest school bus service contractor.

"We are all bus drivers scared of losing our jobs back here, said bus driver Katy Kelley Tuesday from a back row at the School Board's meeting at Central Point Elementary School. "I haven't been able to sleep since I found out you might contract us out. Most of us will lose our homes (if it happens)."

At stake are a total of 38 Central Point bus driver jobs, 37 of which are full time and offer benefits, including health insurance and the Public Employees Retirement System. As First Student employees, bus drivers would not be entitled to those benefits.

First Student has said it 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, said Vicki Robinson, Central Point schools' business services director. Currently, the district pays about $2.5 million to operate its own fleet.

Sams Valley bus driver Cindi Sanderson said many of Central Point's drivers are single parents who could not afford to buy their own health insurance if they were laid off or hired by First Student.

"It's a decision that would take our livelihoods away," Sanderson said. Some of the drivers have been with the district for as long as 26 years, she said.

"That's not uncommon," said Central Point schools Superintendent Randy Gravon. "One of the strengths of having your own busing is you have loyalty and longevity."

Gravon lamented the choices the district now faces to make up its $5 million shortfall, the result of hemorrhaging state and federal education funding.

"It's just a horrible time," he said. "These are not good things to do in terms of people. It's all devastating."

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.