Providence to consider privatizing school bus monitors

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The head of Providence’s municipal employees’ union said Thursday his members would be opposed to any attempt by the city to privatize bus monitor services as part of its new school bus transportation contract.

The city’s contract with longtime busing provider First Student, Inc. ends next year and school officials have put the new agreement out to bid. The 46-page request for proposal also seeks to “evaluate the cost associated with contractor employed bus monitors,” but does not guarantee that the city will hire private monitors.

“These are people that are members of the community,” Ron Coia, business manager of Local 1033 of the Laborers’ International Union, told WPRI.com Thursday. “They send their kids to school here. This is a disappointment.”

Local political blog Rhode Island’s Future was first to report that the city is seeking cost estimates for privatizing bus monitoring.

Providence currently employs 121 permanent or substitute bus monitors, with each earning just over $12 per hour. Coia said his union would fight any attempt to privatize monitoring services.

“Our plan is to let the community know about the hard work that we do,” Coia said. “The welfare of the kids is what we are charged with protecting. We don’t think this is something you can give to the lowest bidder.”

Christina O’Reilly, a spokeswoman for the school department, said seeking pricing for private bus monitors “in no way obligates the school department to have the transportation vendor provide the monitors.”

“We project that the Providence Schools’ budget will continue to be very tight,” O’Reilly said. “So again, we need to look at all opportunities to economize and potentially redirect funds to our core mission of teaching and learning. Seeking the alternate pricing through the transportation RFP will give all of us additional information to examine as we move forward.”

In a statement, Marisa O’Gara, the spokeswoman for Mayor-elect Jorge Elorza’s transition team, said Elorza supports the city’s decision “to seek additional information regarding the cost of bus monitors.

“Throughout the campaign and in every one of Mayor-elect Elorza’s One Providence transition listening forums, we heard from parents that the Providence School Department’s transportation system faces challenges,” O’Gara said. “Addressing school transportation is a top priority for Mayor-elect Elorza, and every aspect of the transportation system must be explored.”

According to the RFP, the city wants to award the new busing contract by February. Services would begin during the 2015-16 school year. Local 1033’s contract with the city expires June 30, 2015.

Nick Hemond, vice president of the school board, said he wants to make sure all bus monitors have the appropriate training.

“When it comes to privatizing bus monitors, I think there are a lot of issues that we as a board have not vetted at this point,” Hemond said.

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan

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