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BUS DRIVERS MAY BE CLOSE TO REACHING LABOR AGREEMENT

After months of being at an impasse, the Williamsville School District and its bus drivers may be close to finally reaching a labor agreement, according to the head of negotiations for the district.

Thomas Ramming, Williamsville's assistant superintendent for human resources, said he believes there will be "substantial progress" when both sides meet at the bargaining table July 2.

"We're not sure, but we think we'll be able to meet our goals," he said.

Ramming said the district is hoping to have a contract in place by July, in part so it can decide whether it should replace some of the aging buses in its fleet, which would require a bond.

The district and its bus drivers declared an impasse in May, triggering the entrance into the talks of a mediator from the state Public Employment Relations Board.

Talks between the two sides have been rocky, with the drivers accusing the district of illegally replacing its drivers with a private fleet.

Williamsville currently splits its transportation needs between its own drivers and bus fleet and Laidlaw, a private transportation firm.

A representative of the Civil Service Employees Association, which represents the district's bus drivers, was not immediately available for comment.

The drivers have said they are seeking job security and would forgo raises for four years if the district would restore the number of drivers to last year's level.

During the 1999-2000 school year, the district had 68 bus drivers, but when the 2000-01 year started, at least three jobs or routes were transferred to a private company, officials say.

The district says the move was necessary because it did not have enough bus drivers, and a driver shortage made it difficult to hire more.

Ramming said the district's goal is still to keep costs under control.

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