How to Find Expansion in a Shrinking Economy

The economy remains in a state of apoplectic flux, no matter what financial experts might say. Far too many people, and school districts, continue along dire straits.

This especially holds true for Michigan. The state recorded a 14.3 percent unemployment rate in January, down two-tenths of a percentage point, yet still several points higher than the national average of 9.7 percent. Yet, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geitner and other top Obama Administration officials warned this week that unemployment could further increase before any sustained decreases in the number of people looking for work.

As we know, the unemployment figures are in reality much higher, reflected by those people who are no longer actively looking for work or their unemployment benefits have expired. Then there are the under-employed, a growing segment of the population. Located about halfway between Detroit and Lansing, Mich., is Howell Public Schools. There, school bus drivers, most of whom are part-time employees, learned this week that they will have to re-apply for their jobs next school year after the school board voted to approve a three-year contract with the Livingstone Educational Service Agency to consolidate bus service.

Howell Public Schools is facing a $3.7 million shortfall in its $66.5 million budget for the 2010-2011 school year. The move to consolidate bus service, board members said, will save the district $500,000 annually, savings in part tied to taking away the drivers’ health benefits. The article pointed out that the drivers will retain their retirement benefits, which also would have been lost if the district had hired a private contractor. But retirement benefits don’t put food on the table now.

One bus driver said she would take home $11 an hour after taxes next year under the consolidation, but that she would be unable to afford basic medical screenings, such as mammograms.

Routing efficiencies will also likely be a result, as other schools in Livingston County had already signed on to the co-op or were considering the possibility. But at Howell Public Schools, like schools around Michigan and the rest of the country, tough decisions in order to save money are continuing to adversely impact the every day lives of school bus drivers.