On Privatization…

I recall teachers and professors frequently (please note I didn’t say “always“) commenting on the danger of using sweeping generalization. “A sweeping generalization,” according to San Jose University professors, “is one in which there seems to be sufficient evidence offered to draw a conclusion, but the conclusion drawn far exceeds what the evidence supports.”

It often occurs to me that many people, including many journalists, missed those sweeping generalization lectures. Today I read an article in the Minneapolis Labor Review (No. 11, March 23, 2012) about the Robinsdale School District voting to outsource their transportation to a private company. The decision was made because the school district’s skyrocketing costs are out of line with what other districts are paying for transportation. Apparently, the community is in an uproar. I think that’s typical of any community facing a massive change that affects students.

However, I would imagine, as is the case in most similar situations, that drivers will be offered employment with the new private company. And lest we get caught up in the debate about the quality of the private company, I assert that the company will be as good as the local manager. If that person cares about the community, and is good at running school bus operations, the community is going to have a positive experience. If the reverse is true, the community will not have a positive experience. In my opinion, the quality of the transportation operation rests on the shoulders of all Transportation Managers, whether employed by School Districts or by private contractors, nation-wide.

What I don’t care for, and always object to, is the people who paint all private companies with the same brush, the brush of sweeping generalizion. It’s very much like what happens when fanatics start dicussing evil corporations (all corporations are bad and all corporations are destroying the fabric of our country – to which I always interject, “Mine isn’t.) Consider the following comments from the article:

  • Speaker after speaker expressed fears for student safety if transportation is handed over to a private contractor.
  • Privatizing is bad for students, parents, taxpayers…
  • Busses [sic] currently operated by private contractors are regularly late and students tell her stories of those private contractor’s drivers stopping to smoke or talk on cell phones.

I’m offended by the article.

We are a private company.

We operate every day with student safety as our first, though not only, priority. We also care about accountability to our School District, our community, our customers, and our employees.

Our drivers, though non-union employees, care about their students, often going to great lengths to make a student’s day better. We are not regularly late, although we have had the rare situation that results in tardiness. Our drivers don’t stop to smoke, leaving kids unattended or in unsafe situations. We have disallowed cell phone use while our vehicles are in operation long before the law disallowed it. I have many other examples of this particular private company leading the way along safe paths (implementing drug and alcohol testing before it was mandatory, requesting improvements to bus design, leading the way in student and public education, and belonging to our community…).

I don’t think that was the point of the article.

Really, the crux of the matter has nothing to do with student safety or the contributions of private contractors to student transportation in the state of Minnesota. The crux, I believe, appears in one of the final paragraphs of the article:

If the district contracts out for its school bus operations, school district dollars will become a source of profit for a private bus company, instead of going towards [sic] union wage jobs and benefits.

First, when did “profit” become a bad word? Profit, essentially, is ending the month with a little cash left in the bank after all the bills and expenses are paid. And honestly, don’t we all want to make a profit? And understand, I am referring to modest, reasonable profits; I think multi-million dollar packages for CEOs of corporations are ridiculous and insane.

Further, if that private bus company can provide safe and efficient transportation services and if they can offer those services for less than what the district is paying currently (even including their nasty profit), why wouldn’t tax payers be in favor of reducing costs?

Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Safe Driving!

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