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Privatization of Gresham school bus system is no solution

Guest column

Privatization (contracting out) is driven by the faulty logic that for-profit companies will better perform the services that trained, professional, dedicated public servants now provide.

This idea began to gain momentum during the 1980s. The revenue crisis created by a series of tax measures, which shifted the tax burden away from corporations and onto the backs of working people, resulted in mounting fiscal constraints at all levels of government.

This current shortfall in funding for public education is caused by insufficient revenue, but the 'spin doctors' frame the crisis as over spending.

Locally, seeking to reduce student transportation costs, the Reynolds school board decided to have private companies bid for the work through the 'request for proposal' process. Simultaneously, the Oregon School Employees Association was conducting a statewide study, using Oregon Department of Education data, to compare the cost of using for-profit services vs. public services.

Using three criteria: cost per student, cost per mile and cost per vehicle, the study revealed that there was no statistically significant difference in cost increase per year between private and public school bus service. Public out performed private in cost efficiency half the time. This convinced the Reynolds School Board to table the RFP.

In 2009-10 the Gresham-Barlow School District spent $4.804 million dollars for the services of First Student, an international corporation. From this, 29 percent is paid to drivers (wages and benefits - $1,393 million) and about 27 percent for fuel, maintenance, supplies, etc. That left about 44 percent ($2.114 million) that was sent to Scotland and pocketed by stockholders, not our local businesses. Surrounding districts that run their own student transportation spend about 77 percent on wages and benefits.

The Gresham-Barlow School District spends about as much as other school districts, but far less goes to local workers because First Student pays low wages and provides no health benefits.

More than 100 First Student drivers organized a union with OSEA in June 2010 and for more than a year they have been trying to negotiate issues of safety and job retention (key to child safety and cost efficiency) into a contract. Annual turnover is about 30 percent for First Student.

First Student refuses to negotiate economic issues and eight unfair labor practice complaints have been filed against them. Local residents want a contract that increases child safety and job retention. Private is not cheaper and both the workers and local communities get cheated.

Fernando Gapasin is the OSEA field representative for the Reynolds and Gresham-Barlow School Districts and First Student Drivers.