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Lakota school bus drivers end strike threat, approve 5-year contract

District admits error, confusion in info to parents
School bus lot in Cincinnati
Posted at 2:42 PM, Apr 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-16 21:49:04-04

LIBERTY TOWNSHIP, Ohio — There won't be a school bus strike in Lakota Local Schools after drivers voted to accept a five-year contract Tuesday night, ending confusion after the district misinformed parents about negotiations.

Bus drivers had rejected the first negotiated deal Monday night. If they had voted “no” again, drivers would have gone on strike Wednesday morning, according to Ron Butts, Teamsters Local 100 secretary/treasurer.

No doubt that came as a relief to Lakota parents and district officials, who admitted they misinformed parents Tuesday into thinking the matter was settled after the two sides came back together after Monday night's vote and negotiated a new tentative agreement.

Details have not been disclosed.

Drivers met at 6 p.m. at Woodland Elementary School in Liberty Township. Dave Webster, Teamsters Local 100 president, told WCPO that some drivers and aides came with their minds made up, voted and left. Others waited to hear details from union representatives and the union attorney. The issues were pay, health insurance and pay for extra routes like field trips.

The 202 drivers who service Lakota Schools work for Petermann Transportation and are represented by Teamsters Local 100, Butts said.

Lakota parents must have thought they were in the clear after the district released a statement at 2 a.m. Tuesday saying Petermann had reached an agreement with the drivers and a strike had been "avoided." But the agreement was only tentative and only prevented a strike Tuesday morning. The district had to backtrack Tuesday afternoon and tell parents to prepare for a possible strike Wednesday.

In a video message, Superintendent Matthew Miller apologized to Lakota parents. He said district officials were told Saturday that an agreement had been reached and that both sides expected the drivers to approve it Monday.

“Our communication over the last 24 hours has seemed disorganized and inconsistent. This is not what our community has come to expect from us, and for that, I am sincerely sorry," Miller said.

A statement from Lakota Schools read, in part:

"Shortly after 1:00 a.m. this morning, Lakota Schools received word from Petermann Transportation’s legal counsel that a new agreement had been reached with its bus drivers. This information was communicated to parents via social media at that time and through the district’s automated systems just after 5:00 a.m.

"Later this morning, district officials were notified by Petermann that the agreement was tentative and that the bus drivers would vote on the proposed contract this evening.

“'This afternoon, we communicated with our families this news, which is understandably frustrating, both for our parents and for us as a district,' said Superintendent Matthew Miller. 'As the district is not involved in the negotiations, we are at the mercy of Petermann and the information that they choose to share with us ... We can only share information with our families that comes to us officially from Petermann representatives, not unconfirmed rumors.'

"After believing that the contract negotiations were settled, the district and its families must prepare for another possible strike and alternative transportation measures."

A strike would have left Butler County's largest public school district without bus service, forcing parents to find alternative transportation on short notice.

Under the circumstances, it's easy to see how parents may have been confused.

A bus drivers strike was called Monday night, then called off as negotiations continued through the night, according to announcements from the school district. The buses ran Tuesday morning as the district said they would.

In a tweet at 10:19 p.m. Monday, the district said: “Lakota just notified that bus provider Petermann could not reach agreement in negotiations with drivers. Bus driver strike means no busing for any students who use Lakota transportation beginning tomorrow 4/16.”

About four hours later, at 2:02 a.m., the district tweeted: "Agreement reached between Petermann Transportation and bus drivers. Strike avoided.”