School Board Votes to Privatize Busing, Custodians
Layoffs coming for more than 110 after West Bloomfield school leaders approve three-year contracts with two private companies to manage their services.
On an issue in which there were "no winners," the West Bloomfield School Board of Education voted 7-0 Monday night to outsource transportation and custodial services beginning in the fall.
It's a move that will save the district almost $6 million over the next three years and in a time when the district is facing difficulties with budget cuts in non-instructional school services from Lansing, one that board members said was necessary.
It was a vote wrapped in emotion: Board members and a crowd of about 100 people listened for almost an hour as transportation employees pleaded with the board to keep their jobs.
"As a 12-year bus driver in Walled Lake who took major concessions last year and faced privatization, I would urge you ... the quality of applicant that's coming through that door is not what the students deserve," said Alison Smith, whose daughter graduated from West Bloomfield High School.
"I know that each and every one of you, if the situation was on the other foot, would be in this audience, fighting to stop this privatization, and this is why most of you ran for the board," said Mitch Brooks, a WBHS graduate whose mother works as a bus driver in the district.
"There are no winners in this situation, regardless of what happens tonight," said Superintendent JoAnn Andrees. "I can't stress enough how appreciative this district is of the savings that (transportation and custodial services) has given us over the years."
Savings: $5.9 million over 3 years
The bottom line, said Trustee Matt Chase, is that outsourcing transportation services to Durham Services will save the district $2.8 million over the next three years. The contract with GCA Education Services will save $3.1 million over three years.
"This is a very difficult decision and none of us took this task lightly. We understood that we were discussing issues which would significantly impact peoples' lives," Chase said.
Other facts which Chase shared:
- The contracts will be for three years; after that, they will be reviewed year by year. According to the board, caps on increases are expected to be in place for a minimum of three years after the duration of the initial contract.
- The district's standard of criminal background checks will be maintained: Results will be sent to the district for the initial screening before they are send to the contractor for approval. Each contract worker has annual drug testing.
- Current bus drivers will be given an advantage over others when applying for new positions and Durham's proposal includes a starting base pay salary higher than the one currently offered by the district. Single-person health care benefits will be offered for each Durham employee working over 20 hours per week.
- Current custodial employees will also be given an advantage over others when applying for new positions and GCA's proposal includes health care benefits and salary comparable to second-tier custodial employees currently working for the district.
- An amendment added allows the board to participate in negotiation with the contractors along with legal counsel and district administration.
- The district will still own the buses. The buses will still have the name of the West Bloomfield School District on the side.
A committee of board members and administrators performed background checks on both companies, visiting other schools in Oakland County that contract with the companies and talking to building principals for first-hand references.
Emotions run high among parents, employees
President Bruce Tobin had to calm down the room repeatedly for disruptions. Board members said their decision came with sadness.
"As a board member, I have to be fiscally responsible for our community, however, there is also a human factor and I recognize their dedication, service, and loyalty," said Treasurer Nelson Hersh. "We never expected the numbers in savings to be anywhere near where it is."
Regina Strong, a West Bloomfield resident with one daughter at the high school and another graduated, advised the board that policymakers in Lansing are to blame for grief over the decision. "They're looking at saving money by robbing Peter to pay Paul, and unfortunately, our education system has been robbed to nothing," she said.
Abbott Middle School grandparent Lynnette Teller urged the board to reconsider privatization and to "be bold, lobby Lansing."
"The financial difficulties that school districts are having across the state are caused by the state of Michigan allowing corporate interests ... to force school districts into making very unwise decisions," she said.
Secretary Raman Singh suggested a bigger discussion was necessary in order to continue to offer excellent schools. "I think that as a community, as a state, and as a country, we should work to decide what we want public education to be," she said.
Follow the conversation about this issue on Facebook at facebook.com/WBloomfldPatch.