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As a rank-and-file member of the Williamsville Transportation Association and a voter, I must respond to the Oct. 10 News article concerning the Williamsville School Board's approval of a Dec. 4 vote on the purchase of new school buses.

First, there is the matter of the recent contract approved by the association. The News' representation of the six-year, 6 percent raise on a retroactive deal is quite misleading. There is no retroactive pay for the school years 1999-2000 and 2000-2001. Wages are frozen for 2001-2002, and only 2 percent raises are agreed upon for 2002-2003, 2003-2004 and 2004-2005.

There are also numerous concessions made to the district, which include a prohibition on working overtime. What remains should make taxpayers happy. The district can now hold down wage costs to its best advantage.

But there is the larger issue facing Williamsville taxpayers of choosing between district in-house transportation and Laidlaw. Should Laidlaw take over entirely, it will have a monopoly on pupil transportation. There are no other carriers that can fill the role. A quick search of the Internet will reveal the widespread discontent with Laidlaw's performance, as the residents of several Erie County districts can attest.

Once Laidlaw is entrenched as the sole provider of transportation, prices charged for service will rise. And since this is contracted service to make a profit, Laidlaw will get the money while its drivers receive the lowest possible competitive wages. This is not the best way to hire quality drivers for our children.

But the Williamsville taxpayer must also consider other factors. The transportation association is forbidden by law to go on strike; Laidlaw is not. Taxpayers might also want to consider how services will be cut in the future as contract costs rise. Do they want a walking radius brought back or a possible cut-back in transportation for private school students?

Taxpayers are understandably upset by high taxes. But it's time to stop making pupil transportation the whipping boy of expense cutting. It's time to do studies of the entire district operations, including administrative costs and perks.



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