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PL bus drivers to earn less money under new contract

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Bus drivers in the Pequot Lakes School District will earn less money over a three-year period and their vacation and sick days overall will be less, Pequot Lakes Superintendent Rick Linnell said of an agreement reached Monday.

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The Pequot Lakes School Board on Monday unanimously ratified the 2011-14 master agreement with the Minnesota Education Pequot Lakes transportation staff. The district has been negotiating with its 17 bus drivers for more than 1-1/2 years. Drivers formed a union, Education Minnesota Pequot Lakes Transportation Staff, about a year ago.

“It was a difficult time,” Linnell said Thursday on negotiations with the transportation staff. “No one wants a reduction in their pay. They do a great job and they’re professional people. It was difficult for them and it was hard for the school board. But the price we pay (to the drivers) is not the market price.”

Linnell said in previous years, the school district has been paying the transportation staff more money in salary and benefits than other school districts have paid their transportation staff. Then add in the increased fuel cost over the years and the poor economy, Linnell said the district had to reduce its cost.

“The whole contract changed,” said Linnell. “It was difficult, but in the end both groups got together and we were able to come up with the best overall agreement that both groups could agree on.”

The contract is for the 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years.

Linnell said the new pay will go into effect Wednesday. In the new contract, the starting wage for bus drivers was reduced to $16 an hour. Linnell would not say what the previous pay was, other than it was higher than $16 an hour. Linnell said there were many variables in the previous contract and the drivers earned different wages. Their wages depended on their duties, such as how long their bus route was and the extra time they spent on cleaning and maintaining the bus. Linnell said with the new contract the drivers will all be paid for four hours a school day regardless of the time they work. He said in the long run the hours worked will average out.

Linnell said the six “grandfathered” bus drivers pay range was $19.47-$21 an hour in the old contract and the pay will decrease to an average of $17.28 an hour under the new contract.

Another change in the transportation contract is sick and vacation days. Linnell said before the staff received nine sick days and five vacation days. In the new contract the staff will receive nine total personal time off days.

JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at jennifer.stockinger@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5851.

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