Possible Privatization of Bus Monitors Riles Providence

buses

Providence, Rhode Island is evaluating the cost of hiring “contractor employed bus monitors,” and the union is up in arms.

The Local 1033 of the Laborers’ International Union, which represents the bus monitors, wants the school board to consider “the well-being of our children.” Ron Coia, business manager of the union, says his 121 bus monitors, who earn $12 an hour, are well-trained and dedicated workers. According to WPRI-TV’s Dan McGowan, Coia said:

“Please send a message that the welfare of our children is not for sale.” 

At this week’s meeting of the school board, over 100 city employees attended to voice their concerns about potentially losing their jobs. But, says school board spokesperson Christina O’Reilly, the RFP (request for proposal) is simply to seek bids on buses and drivers.

This method of investigating prices does not obligate the School Department to have the transportation vendor provide monitors, she explained. A transportation study found that Providence pays more per bus than communities of a similar size, which led to the bidding process for busing services. The city’s budget could be short $10 million to $24 million, say city officials, so revenues will have to be raised or expenses will have to be cut if there is to be a balanced budget.

“We are in tight fiscal times, and the school board and Superintendent Susan Lusi agree that Providence Schools needs to look closely at all potential opportunities to direct the maximum amount of funding to teaching and learning and direct services for students,” she said.

When public education outsourcing occurs, private vendors often hire existing employees at lower wages or hire new employees at much lower wages. Steve Ahlquist, writing a commentary for RI Future, says that new mayor Jorge Elorza supports Superintendent Susan Lusi and the Providence School Board’s decision to seek information about the cost of bus monitors, but both also believe that the overall cost of privatization should be the measure by which a a vendor is chosen, not just the savings which might come from lowering wages or getting rid of certain jobs.

Ahlquist adds that after speaking with bus monitors, he discovered that the duties of a bus monitor are more involved than he had understood them to be. Responsibilities include: helping children on and off the bus, while ensuring that drivers are complying with traffic laws and are alert to children who must cross the street after exiting the bus; being trained in first-aid; being trained in dealing with special needs students and their parents; helping students evacuate the bus when there is an emergency; and protecting children from harm by those who might gain entry into the bus.

Ahlquist hope that Mayor Elorza will consider that destroying people’s livelihoods “is not a good first step on the sustainable path towards a revitalized Providence.”

Linda Borg, reporting for the Providence Journal, writes that because of demands by community leaders and the Providence Student Union, walking distances for students this year have been reduced from three miles to two-and-a-half miles, with the intention of lowering the walking distance to two miles the following school year.