A study that could lay the groundwork for the outsourcing of Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ $69 million transportation department could bring throngs of bus drivers and aides to Wednesday’s School Board meeting.
Some disgruntled drivers staged a small protest Tuesday at a school bus depot in North Central Miami-Dade, saying they were frustrated that the school board is talking about outsourcing on the heels of the district coming to a tentative $70 million agreement for teacher raises.
“Now that they have the money and it’s time to get a raise, this is what they come up with? Why?” said Alissa Williams, 46. “They’re doing us real dirty.”
The School Board is expected to vote on a proposal to review privatization efforts by other school districts, gauge the interest and ability of contractors to provide student transportation services, and analyze the costs of operating the district’s 1,300-bus fleet.
Board Member Carlos Curbelo, who proposed the item, stresses that he has only asked for a study of a change he believes could wind up benefiting drivers.
“This is a very respectful and discreet approach I’ve taken,” he said.
But on Tuesday morning, a few dozen of the district’s 1,700 bus drivers and aides protested the looming School Board vote, gathering outside the John Schee Transportation Center at 2755 NW 122nd St. They said they worry the study is the first step toward losing benefits and job security.
“The notion that it’s a study in a simple form isn’t true,” said Sherman Henry, president of AFSCME Local 1184, which represents the district’s transportation workers. “They create a study, and the next thing you know they’re implementing it.”
Many of the drivers, waving signs and chanting “save our jobs,” said they’ve worked for the district for 10 or 20 years or longer. They said they don’t want to work for private bus companies, though more than 20 services are already approved to run about 50 routes for the district.
“I’m going to fight this until the bitter end,” Stephanie Lowe, 53, said after dropping off students at Dr. Michael Krop Senior High and Virginia A. Boone Highland Oaks Elementary.
As many as 1,000 people have signed up to speak on Curbelo’s item and during the School Board’s public hearing. Bus drivers said they plan to show up to speak after they drop off their students.
Curbelo, however, said drivers and aides have been misinformed by their union.
“My staff has spoken to many employees today,” he tweeted Tuesday afternoon. “Many recognized the union had lied to them. #shameful”
He said the study may very well surmise in two months that the district’s current, in-house model is its best option. He said Wednesday’s vote won’t result in layoffs, and could actually end in better take-home pay for drivers. The goal, he said, is to ensure the district spends as much money possible on its core function: educating kids.
“All we’re asking for is information,” he said. “And that shouldn’t scare anyone unless they have something to hide.”