Singing the Bus Service Blues

Well as most of you probably know District 281 is considering contracting out their bus service.  A couple of letters to the editor flew in last week critical of the idea;

Letter: Dist. 281 shouldn’t copy private industry

In the (Aug. 18) article (“District 281 could save $1 million a year by contracting for bus service”), Mark Bomchill wonders how a private contractor can provide bus service for so much less. Here is the answer: By paying drivers $12 per hour rather than $20. That will be the main result once a private contractor gets hold of the program.

That $8 saving for the contractor will reward him well enough that he will have no trouble maintaining the other elements of the program. But what happens to the drivers and to the community?

Those $20 jobs will eventually disappear and most of those remaining will pay closer to $12, with few or no benefits. The contractor’s human resources department can be callous regarding personnel issues. And the $1 million the district saves will no longer be in the hands of local drivers who were spending much of it locally. If the District 281 Board of Education were to bash the drivers in the same way the contractor will, the board could operate the buses even more frugally — it does not have to provide for a profit. But the board should not emulate private industry in this case. Such hammering on lower-paid workers is surely contributing to the nation’s race to the bottom.

Bruce Kittilson

Golden Valley

Now, while we respect Mr. Kittilson’s opinion here we have to take issue with this a bit.  Claiming there will be an $8 an hour drop in pay and that private industry pays “little or no benefits” is quite an exaggeration.  We think the schools SHOULD copy private industry by raising the retirement age and switching from unsustainable pensions to 401K plans.  That would probably be a better idea that getting rid of bus drivers.  We do sympathize with Mr. Kittilson on the issue of lower wages, but it’s been happening in the private sector for years now.  How can we ask a shrinking private sector to endlessly fund an ever-growing public sector?  Something has to give.

Here is another letter;

Letter: Not a simple move

I am quite concerned about the Robbinsdale School Board’s looking into contracting out its busing operation, and the annual million dollars it says can be saved. I can think of some reasons why it might not be a simple move. A few years ago Bloomington changed busing from contracted to in-house. That change was supposed to be for cost-savings and better control. I suggest the board investigate that experience in Bloomington. I can’t imagine Bloomington’s operation can be that much different than ours. If their switch indeed saved them money, Robbinsdale needs to know the how and why of it.

I would also hope that part of the projected savings in transportation would not be offset by an additional long-term rise in custodial costs because of the need for more of those staff. The current driver-custodian positions augment the duties of the custodians. I would like to hope this has been included in the estimates.

If the over-all budget of the district can benefit from the change, then I say “go for it.” But if it’s only a benefit in one budget account, and added cost in another one, then I would like to know that. And whatever negative impacts there may be, such as lost jobs for local people, should be considered as well. My biggest problem is who the contractor might be. The two most likely ones are First Student and Laidlaw, both owned by corporations based in other countries. I really don’t like the idea of my tax dollars going to some foreign corporation’s bottom line profits.

Dutch Fischer

Crystal

Good information Mr. Fischer, especially the custodial portion; are we going to contract the bus service and then hire new custodians?

Overall, we don’t have enough information to form an opinion on this issue.  We’d love to save more money but we’re not sure this is the best way and we need more information on this $1 million savings figure (ie; what are the long-term implications and what will we do with the custodians).

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