AMERICAN FORK -- Alpine School District employees overflowed out of the conference room of the district's transportation office on Tuesday, all there to express concern and frustration about a recent directive requiring hourly employees not work more than 27.5 hours a week. That will begin July 1.
With that cut, many said they will be forced to take on additional employment or suffer extreme consequences.
"I would have to look for another job or we would lose our house," Bonnie Rieske, a driver, said. The single mother of three, ages 10, 12 and 18, said she wants to have some time to see her children and be a mother to them. She has a bachelor's degree but was told she could make more of a contribution if she became a special needs driver for the district. She has been serving three schools and getting some extra hours fueling the buses on Friday evenings.
"I am barely scraping it as it is now," she said. "I am just paying my bills. I feel heartsick about it."
Gary Richmond said it would be a blow.
"If they cut our hours to 27, we will be up the creek," he said. "I can't afford to drive." He is a driver and his wife is a bus aide. "We have 35 children to deliver three times a day."
Ila Scott is a bus aide and had previously been told if she wanted a job next year she would have to be a driver.
"I wouldn't mind that," she said. But she is concerned. "I took this job for the hours. Now I am getting cut. Why should I have to work three jobs in order to support my family? These guys here are getting their bonuses."
Although the meeting Tuesday, which was not a public meeting, was between district officials and transportation officials and staff, other employees would be affected. Any classified, or non-teaching, employee without a contract would no longer be permitted to work more than 27.5 hours a week. Thus they would not be considered full-time and would not receive benefits; they do not receive benefits now because they are still classified as part-time. Under the Affordable Care Act, employees who are considered full time, at 30 hours per week, would receive health insurance as a benefit.
That would have meant an additional $4.2 million in the budget every year, which Alpine School District cannot afford, district spokeswoman Rhonda Bromley said.
"Alpine School District is having to deal with it just like other districts," she said. "It has to do with hourly employees working over 30 hours and the benefits that a company would have to provide."
The district analyzed various methods to comply with that mandate and decided to limit the hours. Other possible methods that could have covered the $4.2 million additional cost would have included increasing class sizes or cutting salaries.
"We have allowed hourly employees for many years to work over 30 hours," she said. "This affects a lot of people. They need to realize if health care if provided for all the employees, financially it would be over $4 million. This would be an ongoing cost. There are some feelings and frustration."
In addition to the bus drivers and bus aides, the mandate will affect all hourly employees, including secretarial help. Bromley said district officials are still working to determine how the cuts will be implemented.
"It will be a managerial thing," she said. "We are looking at that. In the fall we are opening a transportation department out west." She said the savings in fuel with that move may help offset some other rising costs.
"We are going to have to split some jobs," she said. "There is going to have to be more people hired for less hours. The principals are working with the employees. This impacts 800 people in Alpine School District."
Alpine, the largest district in the state, has approximately 7,800 employees and serves more than 72,000 students.
A fairly large proportion of the employees affected are in the transportation department, she said. Of the approximately 400 transportation employees, about 140 would be affected. The district runs 276 buses and transports 19,000 students a day, with more than 1,000 routes, district transportation director Dan Weishar said.
"We are hopeful we won't lose employees, but we understand," Bromley said. "We are trying to do everything we can. We do need to comply with the law."
"We are just going to have to change the way we have our workers and how we divide things up," she said.
Other school districts, communities and even retail outlets such as Cabela's are facing the same concerns and many have opted to limit the hours of some employees.
"This is not easy," she said. "These are people. They are dedicated employees. There was some frustration." Bromley said it was important for the district to weigh the options. "Being a government entity and having money come from the taxpayers, you have to be responsible for that big chunk of money," she said.
"In any decision there are pros and cons," she said.