Friday, June 17, 2011

Dorchester 2 privatizes bus fleet, 200 drivers fired

While spending time today in Charleston to study further the National Labor Relations Board's complaint against Boeing for moving union jobs to a right-to-work-for-less state, Governor Nikki Haley might do well to offer at least a few minutes' time to roughly 200 bus drivers, mechanics and others in the Dorchester 2 school district who have just lost their jobs. Surely workers who have long been South Carolina citizens rate as much attention as corporations whose roots lay on the other side of North America.

The Post & Courier of Charleston reports today that those 200 school transportation workers have been notified they can apply -- can't anyone? -- for jobs with Dallas School Services, the private company that Dorchester 2 has selected to run its transportation program beginning next year. "They will be given priority in the hiring process if they meet the company's criteria," the paper reports. I'm curious about what the criteria might be.

And I'm curious about the comparison and contrast between the health care and retirement benefits that Dallas School Services offers and the state health and retirement plans.

Lest we be mistaken, this is not a private company headquartered next-door to our north in Durham, North Carolina. Durham School Services is based in Warrenville, Illinois, a full 900 miles from Dorchester. The route that company officials must travel from their headquarters to the district office in Dorchester takes them through Joliet, Illinois; Gary and Indianapolis, Indiana; Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Asheville, North Carolina; before taking I-26 South from Spartanburg to their Dorchester exit.

Indeed, this is the same private bus company that manages school transportation in Charleston and Beaufort counties.

To those readers in Charleston and Beaufort counties, I ask: How's bus privatization working out for you?

District 2 is one of the fastest-growing school districts in the state, with nearly 23,000 students. About 12,000 of them ride a bus each day.

District leaders Thursday said they had been considering hiring a private company to operate their buses for the past two years. They said the move would make the district's transportation system more efficient.

The issue did not come up in recent public meetings on the 2011-2012 district budget. It was raised at public meetings for the 2010-2011 budget, and many drivers and other transportation department employees spoke out against it.

If those drivers and other transportation department employees were longtime South Carolina citizens, I can understand why their views were ignored. We appear to have trouble hearing the cries of workers in South Carolina when there are out-of-state corporate interests knocking at the door.

If memory serves, The State newspaper addressed the question of bus privatization less than three weeks ago. Because Governor Haley has expressed affection for a proposal to privatize the entire state's transportation program -- thus knocking thousands more public employees off their state health care plans and retirement benefits -- reporter Gina Smith cited a study that finds "it costs the state more in time and money to run a privatized school bus maintenance and repair shop than state-run shops."

This was no seat-of-your-pants opinion that Smith cited:

The three-year study, commissioned by the state Department of Education and released Friday, comes at a time when Gov. Nikki Haley’s office is looking into whether privatizing part, or all, of South Carolina’s school bus fleet would save the state money.

The study, conducted by TransPar Group, a Missouri-based transportation company, found that privatization of one Lowcountry bus maintenance and repair shop cost the state more, not less. It also found the shop required more state supervision than other shops.

The study found that a Mount Pleasant school bus shop – operated by the private transportation company General Diesel – exceeded the average costs of both a nearby Charleston bus shop, run by the state, and the average for the state’s school bus shops.

With news like this, I'm sure that our cost-conscious State Superintendent of Education would be all over this issue, ready to eliminate the private contract and return to a more cost-effective system.

State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais, a Republican, said the study’s results are not meaningful because of the state’s flawed contracting process.

The state's flawed contracting process? What flaws?

“The contracting process wasn’t effective,” said Jay Ragley, Zais’ spokesman, adding the private company, General Diesel, selected to take part in the study did not have experience in maintaining buses, only in repairing them.

Something about this doesn't compute.

Rather than operate its own transportation system for public schoolchildren in Charleston, it elected to hire a private company that can't "maintain" buses, only "repair" them? Is there a difference that Superintendent Zais's spokesman can explain?

General Diesel was selected, using the state’s required process, because it had a local presence, maintaining more than 90 buses for the Charleston County School District, according to the study. It also was the lower of two bidders.

The safety and security of South Carolina's public schoolchildren, in the hands of the lowest bidder.

Was the same process followed in Dorchester 2? Was Durham School Services the lowest bidder?

If so, be careful, you children of Dorchester 2. Your parents may have few options for legal recourse if something happens to you while riding the bus to school next year.

1 comment:

  1. Private contractors have a 30 percent profit margins above what is being spent by state employees to repair school buses. Who will pay this additional cost the taxpayers?

    The school district will raise millage to cover all increased costs of the privatized school bus system.

    This service is more expensive in charleston and Beaufort because of privatization. Now it will be more expensive for taxpayers in Dorchester.

    The state retirement fund just lost 200 paying employees.

    The state will now pay unemployment benefits to on hired workers.

    Another great deal on a great day in south carolina!