By Shelby Stewart
At 6:30 p.m., May 21 the Brandon Board of Education is expected to discuss outsourcing bus drivers at their regular meeting at the I-TEC center, 609 Ortonville Road, Ortonville.
“I would encourage anyone with an interest in this topic to visit our web page to learn as much as you can about what is actually being discussed,” said Dr. Matt Outlaw, district superintendent. “Unfortunately, there has been a lot of false and/or inaccurate information that has been shared by opponents of change. As you will find on this site, the district has gone to great lengths to ensure that our families have the truth on the topic and as much detail as possible.”
Information on the topic can be found at http://www.brandonschooldistrict.org/index.php/departments/transportation-department as well as surveys prior to the May 21 meeting.
Pat Pierce, is the union steward for Teamsters Local #214 representing 14 district bus drivers and two mechanics. Due to downsizing the members have declined from about 32 in 2010.
“The drivers, we are a service to this community,” said Pierce. “First Student is a company that is here to earn money and make a profit, their concerns and their care will not be the same as we have right now.”
If approved, First Student would be the company that would employ the district drivers.
“The change would result in more than $300,000 in savings as well as pay increases and other benefits for our current transportation employees (medical benefits, signing bonuses, free training, 401k matching, paid holidays that they don’t have now and more),” said Outlaw. “First Student is also a highly respected transportation company with a long history of success in districts like ours. In the end, the board of education will be weighing all of the factors on this topic and making the decision that is in the best interest of Brandon’s current and future students.”
The current bus drivers do not agree.
“First Student is saying they’ll retain the drivers,” said Pierce. “But I’ll tell you just from talking to the people I work with, 95 percent are leaving, because we do not want to represent First Student due to their track record.”
Other area districts have considered and implemented outsourcing.
“Just keep in mind that in the entire state, the district most similar to Brandon right now is Goodrich,” said Outlaw. “Goodrich has outsourced transportation.”
In 2013 the Goodrich Board of Trustees voted 5-1 outsourcing 15 bus drivers for the district. School officials said the drivers had the opportunity to apply for the jobs with Michigan Educational Transportation Services who won the bid. The compensation was the same at $17.84 per hour and 20 to 25 hours per week. The district savings result from less retirement costs, F.I.C.A. (Federal Insurance Contributions Act), and workers compensation.
According to the 2014 Michigan School Privatization Survey, conducted by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy—24 percent of districts in the state outsource with school bus contractors.
This has been a topic of discussion since March when the request for proposal went out to get bids for a transportation company, and some members of the community have been very vocal at the meetings and signs have been appearing throughout the community voicing opinions about outsourcing.
“Six to 8 years ago when they tried to privatize, we gave up dental and vision, field trips, we took a pay cut,” said Pierce when asked about a solution. “There’s nothing for us to offer up.”