Unease about the proposal to hire a private company for busing services focused mainly on safety issues, in addition to breaking up what is described as a strong community of drivers who not only work in the district, but are community members.
“Parents know us as drivers, they know we are safe, professional,” said John Hall, a District 15 bus driver for the last five years. “People that work for these private companies have no reason to stay-poor wages, poor benefits, no major medical-you will produce a transient workforce.”
Hall went on to say he is not only a District 15 employee, but a taxpayer as well, and wouldn’t mind spending a few more dollars on his property tax bill to ensure the children who live in the school district are safe.
“I know you will make the right decision if you let your conscience guide you here,” Hall said.
Other parents expressed strong unease due to the needs of their children, who they say are very well served with the current district bus drivers.
“My daughter has special needs, and is non-verbal, she can’t tell me if she is being hurt or mistreated. I know every single person my daughter goes off to school with, and her safety is not a concern of mine,” said Deanna Gile, District 15 parent. “Please don’t add that to all the things I already have to be concerned with.”
Caren Ulrich, the president of the District 15 Transportation Union warned the board of the large number of safety issues that she says occur regularly with lower quality employees who are employed by for-profit busing companies.
“We know the community, children, parents and the neighborhoods, that’s especially important in today’s world of uncertainty,” Ulrich said.
She added that all district bus drivers have been thoroughly checked out by the district.
“If problems arise, D15 has the authority to handle them. What can get lost in this process is the harm on people, the real people who live and work and maintain homes and mortgages, buy groceries and go to church here,” Ulrich said.
Ulrich said if the district does chooses to outsource, D15 bus drivers would be lumped together with possibly thousands of other drivers, and transfers or lay-offs could become a real possibility, in addition to lower wages with no benefits.
“If you believe that this school district will maintain the same type of quality we have today, you are mistaken,” Ulrich said.
Ulrich also said the union learned discussions between the outsourcing companies and the school district commenced much earlier that they were made aware of.
“We believe some of the district’s actions have violated our rights under our agreement, and [if we fight this] the lawyers will make a bundle,” she said. “We want to work here and we want to keep our jobs here and we are willing to work with you to make that happen.”
The current transportation budget is roughly $9 million, which represents slightly more than 6 percent of the overall budget, according to Mike Adamczyk, assistant superintendent for business and auxillary services/treasurer.
The portion of that $9 million that covers bus driver salary and benefits is $6.5 million-which the school district is considering outourcing.
The remaining costs relate to the fleet itself, which is owned by the school district, in addition to maintenance and other related upkeep costs.
Adamczyk said two out of the five transportation companies the distrist reached out to provided bids for what would be a three-year contract.
The first company, First Student bid $7.5 million for the upcoming school year, with an increase of $100,000 each year for the following two years. Durham, the second company, bid $6.7 for 2013-2014, and then decreased their cost for the next two years to $6.5 million.
Now, the bids will be more closely examined, and will include three members of the board of education as part of a negotiating team, to determine if it is the right step to move to outsourcing bus services.
Negotiating team members will include President Tim Millar, who will not seek re-election in April, Vice President Scott Herr and board member Manjula Sriram.
A full summary of the bids, and how they compare to what the district is spending currently on transportation costs will be presented at the February 13 board meeting.
“No decision has been made yet, we are still working to determine if this is the right move for the district,” said Jim Garwood, deputy superintendent.
A public hearing on the issue will occur in the spring, Garwood said.