Outsourcing school busing to LeeTran?
Is Lee County Schools looking to privatize your child's ride to school?Photo: Video by fox4now.com
FORT MYERS - LeeTran is in discussions with the Lee County School District, according to a LeeTran spokesperson, to transport as many as 800 students to school in a move that has the union on edge describing the proposal as "outsourcing."
"Rumor has it, I don't know if you all know that [Adelle] song," school bus driver Kathleen Robinson told the school board Tuesday, "that the bus drivers are trying to be replaced."
Board chair Mary Fischer responded saying it was just a rumor.
"I think it's a rumor," said Fischer. "I don't think we want to get rid of any of you guys."
The concern, though, stems from comments the board made at the May 1 board meeting.
At that briefing meeting, board member Jeanne Dozier requested a cost comparison between the "costs associated with the district's transportation department versus outsourcing those same services to a private vendor," according to minutes and video from the meeting.
At that same meeting, the board discussed partnering with LeeTran. So could they take over transportation?
"Absolutely not," said LeeTran spokesperson Joann Haley.
While LeeTran is not looking, nor equipped, to take the reigns of the district's transportation department, they are in talks with the district to drive upwards of 800 students, from four high schools, to class, Haley confirmed to Fox 4.
The district "identified a small number of students that might benefit from being able to use an existing [LeeTran] bus route," said Haley, who says the district contacted them first.
To cut down on transportation costs, Haley says the district is considering offering 800 Lee County high school students the option of taking a LeeTran bus to and from school.
- The bus route would be close to the student's home
- It would be a route with no transfers
- It would be optional
- Students who opt-in would get a voucher for the bus ticket
At the May 1 meeting, Fischer called the proposal, which the union calls "outsourcing," a "win-win."
"It could increase their ridership," said Fischer, "and decrease our costs."
"We're spending $51 million, 180 days," said board member Tom Scott. "A bus ticket costs a lot less than that."
The president of the transportation union is against any talk of outsourcing, including a voucher program.
Union president Bob Rushlow said outsourcing would put students' safety at risk since LeeTran drivers aren't trained to transport children, they can't control who is on the bus and LeeTran buses can't stop traffic with a stop-sign arm.
"First time something happens and they get sued," said Rushlow, referring to the district, "they're gonna find out how expensive it can be."
Rushlow says the district's drivers are specially trained to deal with students, bullying and discipline.
"When it comes to transporting children to and from school," said Rushlow, "you're stepping into a different arena."
LeeTran countered saying they have a number of high school aged riders that are "very capable of safely riding public transportation."
The board is waiting on a cost comparison to see if it would be cheaper to outsource transportation services to a "private vendor."
The issue could come up for discussion when the analysis comes back in late July or early August, according to Fischer.