While San Diego Unified is talking about cutting back busing, bus drivers argue that the school district can only cut it back so far.

The agreement between San Diego Unified and the labor union that represents bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other blue-collar workers says that San Diego Unified will maintain at least 393 positions for school bus drivers. Check it out — it’s on page 18 of this document.

Labor leaders say that means cuts have to stop. Next year, San Diego Unified is slated to have 300 bus drivers, and if the school board cuts deeper to the bare minimum of busing, it would have roughly 260 drivers.

Yet Gene Robinson, who heads the transportation department, wrote in an email that the labor rules still allow the school district to dip below the staffing numbers, as long as the cuts are mandated by the school board and it eliminates any outside contracts or employees first. (Look at page 19, 3b.)

Union leaders disagree with that interpretation. “When you lay off school bus drivers that are mandated in the contract, you’re going to pay us now or you’ll pay us later,” Larry Isom, a bus driver and the chief job steward for the blue-collar workers, told the school board. That could lead to a grievance, Isom said.

The clash echoes the sparring over whether San Diego Unified can cut its counselors and nurses below the specific ratios in its teachers union contract.

If the union tries and succeeds in blocking the cuts, it will make it much harder to trim busing costs: Eliminating drivers is the chief way that San Diego Unified can save money on busing, said Tamara Hurley, a parent who sits on a school district committee that is trying to find savings in transportation.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/emilyschoolsyou.

Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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