"Ashamed" and "Insulted."
These are not my words.
They are the words of one of my colleagues on the School Committee, and were uttered in response to my op-ed in the Cranston Herald three weeks ago where I called upon my colleagues to delay approval of a contract extension with the school district’s bus drivers; nor were they repudiated by any of my colleagues who are not recused on this issue.
It is a curious choice of words.
Are my colleagues ashamed of their own actions, for I would not expect them to be ashamed of mine? Are they insulted that someone had the audacity to question their indefensible position on an issue that the School Committee should have better researched and studied on its own?
The purpose of my op-ed, and one I stand by, was to question the position my colleagues had staked out and to persuade them to act in the long-term interests of the students and taxpayers.
To deflect my op-ed, several charges have been leveled at me:
• The delay to schedule meetings of the Transportation Sub-Committee, in part, was due to my unavailability to meet.
• The op-ed was inaccurate as no transportation study was ever commissioned by the School Committee.
• There is no rush or hurry to extend this contract, only a desire to obtain concessions.
Charge #1: The School Committee adopted its resolution to form a Transportation Sub-Committee in the last week of May. As the City Council was requested to participate in the sub-committee, the resolution required submittal to and action by the City Council, prohibiting any meetings during June and early July. With schedule conflicts amongst me and other sub-committee members during the summer vacation, we were not able to schedule our first meeting until Aug. 28. Like everything else in Rhode Island, Hurricane Irene wiped this out. We were not able to reschedule the meeting until the last week of September. The sub-committee has met twice in the past four weeks. The report is not delayed, and can be completed by Dec. 31 with a concerted effort by the Transportation Sub-Committee.
Charge #2: Beginning with the issuance of a Request for Proposal approximately 12 months ago, the School Committee has been “studying” the issue of outsourcing busing services versus maintaining them in-house. Many fiscal impact analyses have been prepared by the school administration for review by the School Committee (non-recused members only) as well as public hearings for debate and presentations from busing companies and our bus drivers. Doesn’t this constitute a “study?” This sounds like study to me, or are we mincing words?
Charge #3: In my op-ed, I did not suggest that the School Committee turn its back on the concessions that were offered in good faith by our bus drivers. Instead, I recommended that the School Committee delay approving the contract so that the contract extension and concessions could be placed within the context on how the school district would best provide busing services to its students, in the safest and most cost effective manner. My colleagues have asserted that neither did they have any information regarding that context, nor do they believe that it will be forthcoming in the near term. It is this justification for obtaining short-term concessions that I have questioned and are outlined below.
Five months ago in May, when I was appointed to the newly formed Transportation Sub-Committee, I took those responsibilities seriously and commenced research on the issue of bus fleet replacement. In June and early July, I met with our superintendent and transportation director to develop a plan for replacing and financing the fleet. During July, I discussed the proposed financing alternatives with the city’s finance director in order to obtain input from the city on what could be reasonably expected.
Meanwhile, the School Committee continued to bargain in good faith with its bus drivers.
In early August, I presented my research to the school administration for distribution to the School Committee, including a five-year analysis of the costs and benefits of maintaining the school district’s busing services in-house versus outsourcing them. (The same information has been presented to the Transportation Sub-Committee charged with studying this issue). On Aug. 12, this information was disseminated to the entire School Committee to provide a preliminary framework within which to make a decision regarding the contract extension for our bus drivers.
There was little internal discussion or public debate. The research was ignored.
The ultimate responsibility for deciding the outcome of our busing services lies with the School Committee and the School Committee only. The purpose of the Transportation Sub-Committee is to help sift the available information and identify the economic, safety/quality and political issues that are weighing on this matter, while allowing for public debate and input from the three city branches: administration, City Council and School Committee. What the sub-committee is not is a replacement for the School Committee’s responsibility. With an aging fleet, that compromises the quality of our busing services, we should be looking to expedite a resolution of this issue, not looking for the political cover of a report issued by a sub-committee.
My colleagues have had, for almost 60 days, the same information that the Transportation Sub-Committee is now reviewing. My colleagues had the same information, to review and study on their own and within the School Committee, before voting to approve a contract extension. We should all be wondering why they have not, or why they did not, incorporate this information into their decision-making process.
The School Committee should be ashamed of its actions. It is now almost 12 months since the School Committee authorized the issuance of a Request for Proposal to outsource its busing services. The only thing that we have to show for our efforts is a contract extension. No plan for fleet replacement, no public information, and particularly NO commitment to complete this process in a timely manner. The only losers: our students, who continue to ride on buses that are more than 15 years old, and the taxpayers.