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Opinion: School Bus Contract Terminated


Opinion: School Bus Contract Terminated

By Ray Morgan

There is nothing more boring to report than local school board meetings, but the Wednesday October 19, 2015 meeting of the Santa Rosa School Board was a devastating blow to private sector workers in Santa Rosa. The board voted to prematurely terminate their contract with the school bus company that has been providing injury free service for many years. The meeting at City Hall was standing room only as the school bus drivers of First Student joined the democratic process and hoped to include their professional opinion in the decision making process. The drivers spoke eloquently and lovingly of their students and their diligence to assure the children receive caring and safe rides to school. The board read texts, fiddled, and sighed patiently as the low level workers pleaded for some other course of action than termination.  But, alas the vote was decided long before the meeting and although school bus drivers are competent at taking care of other people’s children and negotiating traffic, they are not good at politics or wangling back-stage deals.

The board commissioned a report in 2014 to determine if there was a way to more cheaply supply school bus transportation than by using a proven contractor from the private sector.  The report recommended that a transportation coordinator position be re-created, after allowing that office to be empty for the last ten years, and that a government agency would be better at the job.

First Student had not spent their time lobbying or doing cost benefit analyses to demonstrate their capability to do the job, instead they just kept getting kids to school. With an administrative staff of about ten people, First Student did the job of the transportation coordinator and operated one hundred thirty daily school bus routes. These routes were assembled to meet district’s demands that students be transported from anywhere in the county to the school of their choice instead of to the closest. Last year there were a mere fifty four complaints during a year where-in they successfully operated forty six thousand eight hundred daily route trips without injury, as well as hundreds of off schedule field trips and overflow charter requests from the local government bus agency when they couldn’t fulfill their promises. All this was done without any ability to arrange bell times to make the flow at peak hours more efficient, nor with coordinated direction from the school district other than get them there now. It was tremendous responsibility with little or no authority as to how the job was arranged.

The argument that the staff of seventeen in West Sonoma County Transportation group, the government agency administered by the Joint Powers Authority, comprised of sixteen small school districts and their support staff, administering about sixty bus routes, has done a better and more efficient job is disingenuous at best. Of course they looked better, they had authority to change any aspect of their operation and a huge pool of support staff at their disposal.

As it stands now, about one hundred fifty decent union jobs in the private sector have been busted in favor of swelling the ranks of CalPers to help fund their scheme of two tiered retirement. They need new workers to pay for the retirement of the already entrenched bureaucrats who put this deal together.

The drivers are just barely making ends meet as it is and most are there solely for the medical coverage. The school district counts on First Student drivers to take substantial wage cuts, give up their unemployment insurance, social security, and medical coverage to make this happen. We’ll see.