The private company that owned the bus involved in Monday’s wreck in Chattanooga that killed five [six] elementary school students has had 142 crashes with injuries and three fatalities in the past 24 months, according to federal records. Here
I’m thinking of the pictures this past week of Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos beaming about school choice–vouchers and charters. Do they see any analogy with privatized school bus services?
Both boast they will “go after the status quo” or they will “break the monopoly.” Those are favorite catch phrases having to do with privatization.
This involves loosening rules and regulations in the name of profit and free market–so-called competition. Costs are cut at the bottom so that those at the top can make a profit.
For many years we have watched privatization sneak into schools in various forms. One is privatizing school services. Many school districts now hire outside school bus companies to transport children.
Durham is one of those companies.
The National Education Association (NEA) is a union the privatization enthusiasts scorn. Yet, one of the best write-ups against privatizing outside services when it comes to public schools comes from the NEA. Here
Advocates of privatization argue the profit motive provides an incentive for efficiency, but all too often it is actually an incentive to “cut corners” by skimping on the quality of the work performed. In order to keep costs low and profits high, contractors typically pay lower wages and offer fewer benefits to educational support workers, making it difficult to attract and retain a quality workforce.
When schools outsource the serious job of transporting students, they entrust an outside company to do the job we taxpayers pay for. We become responsible for such decisions by permitting our local school boards to choose the company that comes up with the lowest bid.
How about the analogy of privatizing school buses and school choice and charters?
Neither Trump nor DeVos seem to understand the research that shows choice and charters don’t work.
In their minds, anyone can teach. Like the idea that anyone can drive a school bus.
Anyone can run a school is what they believe too. If it doesn’t work, another will pop up. Money lost. Student learning interrupted. Give more money to the next charter or private school and hope this one will work. That’s competition to them.
There have been terrible violations involving charters and choice if one only cares to look.
A lot of people in this country, however, have been led to believe school competition is great. Let the chips fall where they may in the free market.
They seem to also dismiss the problems of choice and privatization when things go sour.
Donald Trump gave his condolences to the families who lost their children in the horrific bus crash this week.
My late brother was a school bus driver. He took his job seriously and he was loved by the kids and their parents. After he died of cancer, I found notes and cards from students and parents grateful to him for the care he took to transport their children.
He was committed to the school district. It was like a second family to him.
More importantly, safety was everything. When the school district learned a bus driver had without thinking taken cold medication that could make you drowsy that person was fired.
When school districts turn to private companies it changes the dynamics. Just as vouchers and deregulating teaching gives students a second rate education.
When privatizing any service for parents the public might be deceived into thinking it’s great, but who will do the checking for them?
From WSMV TV Nashville in reference to Durham:
But the company’s buses have already had 17 wrecks in Tennessee so far this year.
In those wrecks, a total of 19 people were hurt and one person was killed.
The fatal crash happened in Memphis in September.
In 2014, WMC-TV in Memphis found Durham had more than 250 school bus crashes in Memphis in three years. Drivers were at fault more than half the time.
The report found Durham bus drivers with serious motor vehicle violations and drug records. A bus driver arrested for smoking marijuana on the bus had a previous felony record.
It’s easy to brag about choice. But as we saw this week, sadly, it it can be terribly risky business for children.
Will Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos look closely at the accident in Chattanooga and slow down their school choice chants? I hope so.
Karen Bracken says
Keeping their corporate buddies. happy is what matter most to the Devos family. Once you start digging into their history the picture turns very bleak. I wonder how much digging Trump’s people did or were they “convinced” to pick Betsy DeVos without question? Her history and her affiliations make for very strange bedfellows and makes one wonder if Trump has the slightest clue about what he has just done to education by nominating this woman and her family. The only hope we have now is to convince our Senators not to approve the nomination. DeVos will put vouchers at the top of her list. When that happens it will be the end of private education. All private schools will be under the mandate of state and federal education laws and rules. Why would parents pay for the same education they will get in the free public schools? They won’t and this will spell the end for private schools. You see they want ALL children under one system. Charters will be that system and there will be no elected school boards to get in the way. So in the end you will have only ONE Choice and that will be Charters and you will have NO voice because elected school boards will be gone. WAKE UP. You are being lied to and deceived. The name of the game is MONEY not education. The game is workforce training for the global economy not education.
Nancy Bailey says
I don’t see it strange that he chose her at all since his total education agenda was about choice and charters. He also spoke about getting rid of Common Core, but I am not entirely sure that will be the case. I think they will change the name.
I also don’t think private schools are threatened with this. I don’t think the govt. will be over them.
Public schools and school boards are in trouble though. I do agree with you here. Also, with the money and global economy. Education with them in my opinion is tied to an ideology involving business and competition.
So we agree and disagree, but thank you for your ideas to think about, Karen. They are appreciated.
Julie Borst says
One of many reasons I have never let my daughter set foot on a school bus (and yes, I completely recognize my out-sized privilege in the ability to do that). In NJ, school districts are organized into larger groups that share services. Many districts are too small to have and run their own buses (like mine) and so they can select busing companies from a list of “approved” companies that are allegedly vetted by the state. Mostly the busing involves students with disabilities. Horror stories abound of busing getting lost for hours, extra adults seen on buses with no explanation of who they are or why they are there, and so on. It’s completely out of the control of the local district. Their only recourse on behalf of their students is change busing companies, from the same list. And, the busing companies with issues remain on the list. Very frustrating, to say the least.
Nancy Bailey says
That is revealing, Julie. I don’t blame you! And how sad for parents with no choice. Those who want to get rid of free public schooling, see services like busing a waste they can get rid of quickly. Sadly Un-American.
Nancy Flanagan says
Good piece, Nancy–thanks.
I spent 30 years in a single district. When I started, all the support staff (bus drivers, custodians, food service staff, secretaries and aides) were unionized. A large majority of them lived in the community, sent their kids to our schools, paid taxes in our district. With the exception of the custodians (who were AFL-CIO) we belonged to different branches of the same union–a fact that made some teachers uncomfortable: didn’t we want to set ourselves apart, as “professional” staff? Did we equate our skills and preparation with the lunch ladies and the playground attendants?
Then, as school funding shrank, the district decided to privatize custodial services first. The custodial staff were hard-line unionists, unafraid to strike and unbending in bargaining–a pain in administrators’ management control. As soon as all the well-known, veteran local custodians were let go, the privatized company started sending in people that parents found…distasteful, shall we say? There was a whispering campaign–you can no longer be 5 minutes late to pick up your child after Brownies or soccer practice, because we just don’t like the looks of that new janitor!!
There were even fewer restrictions on who could be hired to clean classrooms–no licensure issues or worries about criminal records, because *technically* they weren’t working directly with students. But that’s the thing–everyone, whether they’re delivering mail, answering the phone, dishing up pizza or cleaning up that little accident–comes in contact with children.
My heart goes out to the folks in TN, including those who were just trying to save a little money on the backs of poor kids.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Nancy. Fascinating documentation of how outsourcing evolved and how it changes the school climate. You are right about all these folks coming in contact with children and they can be if they are school district employees a real part of the school–like family. Very sad to lose that. I still remember the kind custodian at my own elementary school. Everyone loved him.
Sheila Resseger says
The neoliberal goals of deregulation, privatization, gutting of the social safety net, and profit for those at the top incessantly pushes for “small government.” What they don’t say is that a shrinking public workforce is coupled with an exponentially growing workforce of private contractors. Besty DeVos’s brother Erik Prince was the founder of Blackwater, a force of mercenaries whose track record was disastrous. They have no true patriotism, because they ply their trade on prejudice and weaponry and are not only not legally accountable, but harm the interests of the country by their recklessness. The same will be true with the privatization of public education. We are already far down this path with charters, but with DeVos as Secretary of Education and her push for vouchers, the calamity could be upon us very quickly. Hopefully enough Senators will understand what her appointment truly means and will block her confirmation.
Nancy Bailey says
You bring up a pretty scary point, Sheila. Especially in light of some of the strict charter schools. Thank you for your insight.
Of course, more and more service are going to be privatized, even if DeVos can’t manage to destroy the whole public system and replace it with a private voucher one. It’s inevitable. You can only afford your gadgets, car, clothes, etc. because automation and foreign labor have made the cost of manufacture rise at a lower rate than inflation. Impossible with teaching, as it has traditionally been done. Don’t worry, wealthy children will still get personal education from a real teacher, but the rest of them will have to get used to something different. Something’s got to give. I don’t see the NEA coming up with a realistic plan for reducing costs and that has to be addressed.
Nancy Bailey says
Hoping the NEA and AFT will grow stronger, Dave, and leave the table of corporate reform. They need to find their own dining room!
I would recommend looking at what has already happened in other states. For example, when I lived in LA, CA for the last two years our local public school sent a letter home that said, “We are glad our Lupin Hill parents realize public school is no longer free.” Which had a check box and a place to enter your debit card number for your 2K tuition. I was so angry that the letter said that since school has never been free, it is taxpayer funded. In addition, if your child needed to ride the bus. it would cost $200 a month. In addition, every Wednesday was a 1/2 day and the rest of the week school was over at 1:15. After school care run by the YMCA was ~$800 a month. I hope those that support her nomination are soon ready to pay over 1K a month per child for their public education. But this is what is to come if we let people like Devos privatize the system. This has already happened in other parts of the country. Parents here have no awareness of how they will be expected to subsidize education. Devos won’t advertise that as part of her plan. It will be a slow bleed year after year until will have the system Eli Broad has successfully implemented in metropolitan LA. If that is what they want, then fine. But at least make them aware of that reality.
Nancy Bailey says
Wow! Megan. I have always considered this to be the ultimate end to school privatization! I just didn’t know it was happening so quickly. Thank you for sharing!
Several years ago, our per pupil funding went down and our school board needed to make cuts.
They had all para-pros go to part time, so they wouldn’t have to pay benefits. That wasn’t enough.
They cut the salaries of the secretarial staff. That wasn’t enough.
More savings were needed. Districts in the area were cutting teacher salaries, sometimes by 20%.
So our district privatized busing, janitorial, and grounds-keeping. We saved $7 million. Many of the school employees became employees of the contracted companies.
An across-the-district cut of 8% would have kept those groups as district employees. But teachers and administrators didn’t get pay cuts. I believe our superintendent got his yearly bonus for being highly effective.
There was no money. Every district made painful cuts. The administrators chose who got the cuts and the school boards approved them.
I don’t know if our district chose wisely or not. We are known for paying our teachers well, which attracts many applicants. Perhaps cuts to salaries would have meant fewer applicants. Was privatizing certain groups the best option? None of our teachers spoke out against it. Only parents and the groups to be privatized said anything.
Is privatizing these groups bad? I haven’t seen statistics on this. We still had school bus accidents before privatization. We still had maintenance people who shouldn’t have been around children before privatization. I’ve heard a lot of emotional arguments against privatization, but have never seen someone post hard numbers about it.
Was it right for our district to save $7 million through privatization to put towards education instead? I don’t know.
Nancy Bailey says
School bus transportation has been known as being a pretty safe means of transportation. I am on the look out for some hard figures about accidents though where there are comparisons.
Drivers are vetted better too, as we are learning here.
I would argue that it wasn’t right that your district cut corners, School boards have difficult decisions to make with budget cuts, but are those budget cuts warranted?
Teachers and even the public don’t always pay attention to what is happening with school services.
There are big differences though between district run buses and private companies. School district bus drivers often feel more a part of the district. Their children might attend those schools.
Great questions though, Joshua. And worth more study. Thanks!
Well it smells like New World Order to me. I know many of school bus drivers, and they are worried about their retirement. They are taking bids in this district to outsource school bus transportation. What about all the school bus drivers, bus mechanic’s, and people who work for the Bus district. Heard they was doing this with custodians. And pretty soon school lunch room workers. Did anybody stop to think how this will affect their retirement? I think it amounts to someone like the Superintendent’s wanting to put more money in their pockets. And they don’t care who they cut out. And to me that’s terrible. I don’t think it helps the kids become any smarter. I think it hurts the economy. Well if I work for the school board and I can save the school board several million a year, toss me a bonus. Piss on people who worked for their jobs now looking forward to retirement. Let’s take bids on outsourcing. More Mo ey for the kids my a$$.
Nancy Bailey says
Thanks for sharing, Ben. Great point about mechanics and others who work for the school district.