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Former bus driver sues Central Point School District

A former school bus driver is suing the Central Point School District for failing to do a comprehensive cost analysis before contracting out bus services.

Stephanie Hicks is suing the district after the school board voted in June to contract out to First Student Bus Services to cut costs.

Hicks is citing a law passed by the Oregon Legislature in 2009 that requires school districts to prove there are actual cost savings before they contract out services, according to a statement by the Oregon School Employees Association.

Hicks is being backed by the OSEA, which is interested in her case because it is the first time the 2009 law is being tested.

An Oregon Revised Statute states that in order for a district to contract out services, it must first determine that money will actually be saved, in more ways than just reduction to wages and benefits.

This prevents the district from contracting out and later realizing costs weren't saved.

"Once they sell their bus fleet and contract out, to bring it back is next to impossible," said Cindy Drought, field representative for the OSEA.

The district said it analyzed the numbers for contracting bus services last spring, and estimated a 10 percent savings for materials, equipment and supplies.

District officials estimated in May that contracting could save the district at least $50,000 in salaries and benefits, $380,000 from buying new buses and 5 to 10 percent in material costs. At the time the district spent $2.5 million annually to operate its own bus fleet.

In the first year, the district estimated, it would save roughly $360,000.

Hicks and the OSEA believe that the district's analysis and estimates were flawed.

The OSEA thinks the district didn't provide evidence for its cost savings estimates, violating the law.

Though the district said it would require First Student to hire all qualified bus drivers who were previously working for the district, Drought said some, such as Hicks, were not hired.

Drought said of 38 bus drivers who previously worked for the district, most were hired by First Student, a few drivers retired and a few qualified drivers weren't hired.

"(Hicks) applied and was advised by First Student that they received her application, and she would not be hired," said Drought. "They did not give her any further explanation."

Also, the district required First Student to pay the same wages as the district, and that hasn't been the case either, according to the OSEA.

"For drive time they are paid the same, but for trainings, fueling or other nondrive-time they are paid minimum wage," said Drought. "We don't believe this was the district's intent."

Drought said she doesn't know what Hicks is seeking in terms of reparations from the lawsuit, but is hopeful the case will go in her favor.

"This applies to any contracting out," said Drought. "We're very hopeful Stephanie will prevail."

Calls to the Central Point School District regarding the case were not immediately returned.

The case is set to go to trial Dec. 8 in Jackson County Circuit Court.