UPDATED: Thursday, Dec. 19 9:15 a.m.
District 15 issued a press release late Thursday to clarify how the district will move forward in regards to the possiblity of outsourcing bus services.
The release stated that due to significant reductions in state reimbursements for transportation, a consultant was utilized to determine what cost savings would be. There currently is a negotiated contract between the school district and the District 15 Transportation Union (DTU).
"For the 2012-13 school year, District 15 allocated approximately $6 million in salaries and expenses to support student transportation services. Preliminary estimates project annual savings at approximately $600,000," the release stated.
In addition to previously stated concerns, Camille Burner, a D15 parent, reached out to Palatine Patch and expressed fears that salaries would be lowered for employees if bus services were privatized - and that move could attract less qualified individuals unable to find other work.
Superintendent Scott Thompson conceded lower salaries are a possibility, but after consulting with other schools districts, said services have apparently not been affected.
"My colleagues have been very happy with the services, and there were no complaints outside of ordinary parent complaints," Thompson said.
Burner suggested trying to trim the cost of busing children, by transporting them to schools closer to where they live.
"It’s become very complicated on where children attend schools, there have been a lot of conversations; it would require redistricting, and moving kids around to get them to a closer school, but we couldn’t house all students at the schools they live nearest to," Thompson said.
A timeline also was provided by the school district in regards to how the process will move forward:
- Bids received and preliminarily reviewed (January 10)
- Bids shared with the Board (January 16)
- Discussions/negotiations with the DTU (late January-March)
- Bids analyzed and discussed at Board meeting (February 13)
- Public hearing on transportation (regular Board meeting in either March or April)
District officials stressed no decisions have been made, and that they are, "committed to ensuring timely, safe and reliable bus service for [our] students. A thorough analysis of all factors and comments will be used in making the final decision," the release stated.
Concerned parents have started an online petition at Change.org to campaign against the potential proposal. That petition can be found here.
A number of District 15 parents are balking at the school board's consideration of bidding out bus services to private companies.
The issue was presented at Wednesday's school board meeting and included on the agenda under the Superintendent's Report at Wednesday's meeting was "Bid for Transportation Services."
One parent, who wishes to remain anonymous, expressed a number of concerns:
"Some things to consider, as a parent, are: The current bus drivers are randomly tested for drug and alcohol use, pass the most stringent of tests, are of the highest quality of people, and overwhelmingly, most live within the community," the parent stated.
"The same cannot be said for outside companies, who hire inferior employees cheaply, and recruit drivers from blight filled areas," the parent said.
Another parent, who also wishes to remain anonymous, brought up the possiblity of District 15 bus drivers, who are school district employees, losing their jobs if the board ultimately decides to go that way.
Superintendent Scott Thompson said the entire issue is only in the early stages, and the board is interested in learning what the cost savings would be.
"If we were to decide to hire private companies for bus services, the majority of our current drivers would likely begin working for whomever we would hire," Thompson said.
Within the Board of Education packet materials for Wednesday's meeting, Thompson stated, "Safety and service will remain at the current levels whether or not the district contracts for transportation services."
He added that neighboring school districts who have used private companies have not seen safety or service diminished in any way.
In regards to termination of current District 15 employees who provide transportation services, Thompson stated as part of any contract with a private company, the firm chosen would be required to offer employment to current D15 employees.
A Request for Proposal (RFP) was sent out on Wednesday, December 12 to private companies for bid requests, and Thompson stated in the board packet a required public hearing on the issue would be held in late March, 2013.