February 28, 2019

Fighting outsourcing, Rockford bus drivers testify at school board

Rockford school bus drivers of AFSCME Local 1275 are voicing opposition to the RPS 205 school board’s plan to outsource school bus services to a private, for-profit corporation. The move would put student safety and dedicated school bus drivers' livelihoods on the line.

The experience of other school districts shows that when bus services are privatized, corporations cut corners to maximize profit, putting the safety of children at risk, taking accountability out of the hands of residents, and undermining wages and benefits for drivers who live in the community.

Offering public testimony backed by a crowd of supporters, AFSCME members urged the school board at their Feb. 26 meeting to put student safety first and say no to outsourcing.

“I know how important it is to have drivers who care about safety and take pride in their jobs because I hear from parents all the time who thank us for getting their kids safely to school,” Darrell Freeman told the board. “A for-profit company would be bad for drivers, our families and all the families we serve.  Think about it—how does a private school bus company make a profit?  The only way is by squeezing workers and shortchanging kids’ safety.”

“I have been a professional school bus driver for 20 plus years,” Catina Barnett told the board. “Our drivers have built good relationships with the students and their parents, and we take a lot of pride in what we do. We are part of this community. An out-of-town or out-of-state private, for-profit bus company only cares about profit.”

Private contractors have bad outcomes

According to a two-decade long independent study, the total cost for taxpayers is $223,900 higher per year when a typical school district privatizes bus services.

School districts across the country are canceling or considering canceling contracts with outside providers because of increased costs due to outsourcing, as well as driver shortages and unsatisfactory service.

Illinois communities that privatized busing service regret the choice, AFSCME Council 31 Staff Representative Chris Hooser testified to the board.

“Charleston and Mount Pleasant school districts reported that they were considering canceling their contract for bus services after driver shortages continued to worsen,” he said. “Vandalia canceled their contract with a private vendor in 2015 following a string of four bus accidents, inadequate staffing and other issues. And in Bloomington, the superintendent said its private vendor ‘let us down,’ after hundreds of students were late due to the contractor’s difficulty retaining drivers.”

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), over the last two years First Student—one of the bidders--was cited for 3,105 violations, involved in 885 crashes resulting in 7 fatalities and 863 injuries. The violations included four citations for “inadequate brakes for safe stopping,” seven citations for “inoperative/defective brakes,” and 35 citations for “brakes out of Service.”

Take Action!

Contact the RPS 205 School Board and urge them to put safety first:

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