The Examiner U-46 News Feed
U-46 bus outsourcing still contentious issue
By Seth Hancock
Members of District U-46 Transportation Union (DUTU) continued to protest the possibility of outsourcing half of the district’s transportation as they spoke at the Board of Education meeting on Monday, Feb. 6.
DUTU, which also organized a protest before the meeting, members continued to rely on emotions and anecdotal stories to oppose the outsourcing with even a parent bringing her child in a wheelchair to oppose the outsourcing, which would primarily include special education routes. To date, DUTU had not offered any hard evidence to prove its claims against private companies.
John Vercelli, a DUTU member, said: “These kids are the most fragile of students in our district.”
“You already employ the best drivers and assistants,” Vercelli added. “Why would you want to outsource these routes to someone who won’t care about these children like our drivers and assistants do?”
First Student was the lone company to submit a bid, and their proposal claims $3.9 million in savings over the next three years.
Vercelli said he’s read media reports about accidents involving First Student drivers and “that alone should be reason enough for you to dismiss their proposal,” but as The Examiner has reported U-46 drivers have averaged 70 accidents/incidents each year over the last 10 which came from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
Vercelli also voiced opposition to charter schools which he said he feels are private schools. Charter schools are in fact still public schools but they offer parents a choice in where they send their kids.
Speakers claimed a fear of outsiders coming to drive U-46 children, but DUTU did bring in an outsider to speak on their behalf as Kathi Griffin, the vice president of the Illinois Education Association (IEA) union based in Springfield, spoke and emphasized that outsourcing would bring in a “for-profit” company. Griffin’s career, according to the IEA’s website, is one of “a union activist.”
First Student drivers are unionized with the Teamsters union.
DUTU members said during the last contract negotiation that they gave back $1.5 million while the administration received $1.2 million in bonuses, but that would be a matter of a previous board not holding the administration accountable which would be a separate issue.
Tanya Johnson said that DUTU ran numbers using $15 an hour for drivers to show that First Student couldn’t meet the $3.9 million in saving and said to ask for a breakdown of how the company would save that. Through a FOIA request, The Examiner found that the average pay for a DUTU bus driver is actually $22.47 per hour, and First Student’s proposal is 308 pages and finds most of its savings through efficiency measures, such as eliminating the shuttling of workers and being able to use two radio frequencies, that would likely benefit drivers.
One of the main concerns raised by DUTU that evening was the ability to have consistent drivers for students. The Examiner reached out to First Student to ask if they can provide consistent drivers.
“First Student transports more special needs students in a day than most bus companies transport in a year,” said Chris Kemper, director of external communications. “We agree that familiarity and continuity are important on the school bus – particularly for special needs students. We certainly focus on having the same drivers on all of our special-needs routes.”
Kemper added: “We also agree that the transportation of special needs students takes exceptional attention and care. Our training program encompasses all facets of transporting special-needs students, including the characteristics of various disabilities, sensitivity, laws and liabilities involved in transporting special-needs children, student behavior management and wheelchair-lift operation.”
On First Student’s website, it states that “drivers and monitors are required to participate in numerous needs-specific education programs, workshops and on-the-job training.”
The Examiner previously reached out to Heather Weiss, DUTU’s president, to ask for evidence, hard data, to back up the union’s claims but she did not respond. She was given another chance and was also asked if DUTU had reached out to First Student to see if the company could alleviate their concerns.
Weiss initially responded to The Examiner’s second request to say she “would be happy to respond” after sharing DUTU’s analysis of the First Student proposal with its members on Thursday, Feb. 9. She has yet to respond.
Kemper was asked if DUTU had contacted First Student, and he said “to our knowledge the union has not tried to reach us.”
“As we said before, after a strict background check, on average we hire about 95 percent of the staff from districts that contract with us,” Kemper added.