WEST ALEXANDRIA — Representatives with OAPSE Local 672 spoke during the Twin Valley Community Local Board of Education Meeting on Monday, Feb. 24 in response to comments board member Jason DeLong made during the January board meeting.
President Laura Emrick opened, explaining that since Vice-President Misty Clayton was mentioned by name by DeLong, she thought Clayton should be the one to address board.
Clayton said, “In December 1973, before Lanier Township and West Alexandria joined to become Twin Valley South, the school workers’ support staff formed a union — our union. They did this so they could have a voice on the job to improve their lives, their families, and their communities.
“Those folks who worked here in 1973 understood that with a union, working people win basic rights, like a say in their jobs, job safety, and their job security. Unions also help to remedy discrimination, because the union contracts ensure that all workers are treated fairly and equally.
“When there is a problem on the job – such as, how do we attract and retain bus drivers — union workers and management can and have been working together equally to solve the problem.
“Another bonus from the union is that union wages and benefits are higher and better for those non-union workers, which translates into stronger tax bases for our communities, better schools, and a healthier local community. This union has always looked out for its members interest and will continue to do so.
“We thought we had a good working relationship with the Board of Education, but after comments made by one member at the January 2020 meeting, we have questioned this relationship. We feel that many of the statements made belittled and slandered our union.
“The leadership of this local union has always been willing and able to collaborate with administration and the board members on items of mutual concern. It is our hope that our union can still continue to work together with the Board of Education without further disappointment and lack of respect.”
DeLong responded, “I think the statements I made last [meeting] were maybe misunderstood to a certain extent. I have been for — clear back in negotiations, you didn’t know this — I was in favor of paying the bus drivers more money. I’ve seen the problem coming, I have heard for several years now that [this] is a problem state-wide. I like seeing things get done, I mean no disrespect to anyone as far as administration, prior superintendents, but this has been an ongoing problem.
“Getting sub-bus drivers, getting bus drivers — this is an extreme example, but if we were paying $30 or $40 per hour for bus drivers, we would have people lined up. The reason we don’t have bus drivers is because the pay or the benefits isn’t strong enough to support the lack of a normal work day – a route in the morning, time to eat lunch or take a nap, and then a route in the afternoon. It is very difficult, you have a middle of the day void there that makes it tough.
“I’m not saying take a nap — I’m not demeaning anything by that statement. Here is the frustration, whatever happens in the middle of the day, it complicates getting bus drivers and the working pay is less than it should be, or we would be able to get more people. What I stated last month at the meeting, we have the same goal. I don’t want students on the bus at 5:30 in the morning. If we lose another bus driver, that is not good for our students.”
He added, an additional worry is if they do anything to entice bus drivers to the district, will taxpayers suffer by higher wages for bus drivers increasing the wage for other classifications as well.
“That is what I meant by the frustration. I meant no disrespect to any of our employees. I don’t want students on the bus at 5:30 in the morning. That is where I’m coming from,” he said.
Superintendent Scott Cottingim asked, “Jason, would it be safe to say that your wish is to have the board, administration, and the union work together to find a solution for this problem?”
“Absolutely,” DeLong responded. “I’d like to pay you all more money and have more people here so we’re not paying thousands of dollars a year on overtime because of staff shortage. I think we’re all trying to take the same mountain. I think maybe some of the sentiments I said last month were, because I’m a passionate guy, maybe I got off on a tangent and maybe I didn’t finish part of what I was saying. That is all the position I was coming from.”
Board member Christine Bitner said, “I would like to point out, in our mission statement, it does say ‘utilizing a team effort among parents, educators, staff, and community’ and I will speak for the board that every single one of us agree with that statement. We speak that every single [month] before the meeting. If words were maybe taken out of context, I am certain [that] Jason is obviously upset about what was said and I hope that his statement about his respect for the union was sincere.
“We do love your statement and the fact that you are on our team. Our school is about the staff and the educators, certainly there are places you could go and make a lot more money, so you are obviously here for the love of the students. I don’t feel like that is in question at all. I hope that puts confidence in you that the board does care about their staff and we will continue to work together.”
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH