Privatizing School Bus Drivers

In last Tuesday’s race for Central Dauphin school board candidates clashed over the privatization of the district’s busing. The pro-privatization candidate- Chris Judd narrowly won, but that hasn’t silenced the controversy.

In August the school board voted to privatize their transportation services and hired Durham School Services. Of course this didn’t sit well with the Central Dauphin School Bus Driver’s Association- even after the company acknowledged their intent to hire the current drivers. In fact, drivers say they have not even looked at a new contract from Durham, but were told there will be big changes to health care benefits.

The CDBDA is now seeking legal action against the district, claiming unfair labor practices (the original contract expires in June 2011). Bus drivers will attend a hearing on the case tomorrow.

A 2005 Reason study notes that, ” . . at least 40% of every dollar spent on education never actually makes it into the classroom and is instead spent on business operations-transportation, food services . . . . and other bureaucratic support functions.” Privatizing these services is one way to cut costs and ensure that more resources are directed to actual education. The board estimates outsourcing will save $755,000 a year.

Unfortunately the issue has been framed as a choice between the bus drivers who, “are the people that my children love, respect and count on every day” and a greedy school board who puts a price tag on safety. But if Durham is agreeing to hire the same bus drivers how is that jeopardizing the safety of these students?

Furthermore, if Durham’s safety record was questionable I doubt they would be serving over 300 school districts in 29 states, including Pennsylvania.

Privatization of school transportation is a common practice, according to the PA School Bus Association about 85% of school districts in PA outsource their school transportation. In Massachusetts and Connecticut over 90% of school transportation needs are met by private companies, in Michigan 38 districts contract out transportation services, and in Illinois over 40% of the state’s districts outsource their busing operations.