The Miami-Dade school district may look to privatize its vast fleet of school buses and transportation employees.
Board Member Carlos Curbelo believes the district can push savings into the classroom by possibly outsourcing the district’s fleet of 1,300 buses and approximately 1,700 bus drivers and aides. He also wants the district to explore whether money can be saved through other options, like crafting a public/private partnership or by simply altering its current busing model.
“The mere size and scope of this operation warrants a closer look to determine the cost-benefit to the taxpayers of continuing with our current operation or exploring other operational alternatives,” Curbelo wrote in his proposal.
Miami-Dade school buses transport more than 60,000 students to and from school each day, according to the district. The system costs about $69 million, or $1,000 per passenger.
Curbelo said the proposal isn’t a criticism of the district’s transportation department, but a move to find classroom money without raising taxes or relying on state funds.
Administrators won’t pursue the issue unless a majority of the board votes in favor of the item during next week’s board meeting. But Curbelo’s colleagues supported the idea Wednesday during a committee meeting - albeit with some hesitation.
“I want to know who those drivers are, and what communities they come from,” said Board Member Wilbert “Tee” Holloway. “There’s an impact on our total community that I really want to be addressed.”
When Curbelo noted that bus drivers — many of whom are paid less than $20,000 in base salary — could earn higher wages under a private contractor, Holloway responded: “We’ll see.”
Following Wednesday’s meeting, Sherman Henry, the president of AFSCME Local 1184, which represents the district’s drivers, aides, dispatchers and other workers, said the proposal is “a strategic assault on public sector workers.” He said Curbelo, a Republican, is pursuing privatization to help his campaign for U.S. Congress against Democrat Rep. Joe Garcia.
“He’s coming in with this initiative and he’s trying to leave the district for higher office,” Henry said.
Curbelo called the comment “cheap,” and said he was disappointed that Henry would “politicize” the proposal rather than debate its merits.
Should Curbelo’s proposal pass as currently written next week, the district would issue a request for information from private vendors to gauge interest in the private sector. Curbelo said he’d like to see the district’s report in about 60 days, and he’s open to the possibility that the district might say it is better off continuing to run its own transportation system.
“I don’t have all the answers,” Curbelo said. “That’s why we’re bringing this item.”