School boards around the country may be trying to save public funding due to budget cuts made during the pandemic, but in return, are not paying all of their contractors who provide services to the schools. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the private school bus industry has been struggling. When schools were forced to shut down, transportation for students was no longer needed, causing the companies to struggle to stay afloat.
An executive order issued in March by Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont stated that districts receiving state funding should be paying their employees and contractors as best as they can right now. This is not happening in some districts because of a legal opinion issued to the Connecticut Association of Public-School Superintendents, by a Hartford Law firm, Shipman & Goodwin, not to continue the payments.
The schools are wary to use “public monies”, as stated in the Hartford Courant, because these private transportation companies may not be providing a service, depending on whether their specific school districts have returned to in-person schooling during the pandemic. This current situation causes problems for those who drive the buses for their main source of income because they are currently without a job. It is also negatively affecting the private bus companies, some of which have been running for decades and may be forced to shut down.
School boards should continue to pay the private bus companies, so they can continue to pay their employees, which would be more efficient in the long run for both the schools and the private companies. This way, the schools will not need to find new private bus companies to transport their students once the pandemic is hopefully under control.
Deborah Stone, a professor at The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, described efficiency as “a fancy name for a simple idea: getting the most for the least or achieving an objective for the lowest cost.” Similarly, the political scientist Aaron Wildvsky observed, “Efficiency doesn’t tell you where to go, only that you should arrive there with the least possible effort.” Therefore, continuing to pay the contractors is more efficient in the long run because it will save districts from spending time and money to hire new private bus companies.
However, some scholars argue that contracting can be very problematic. For example, Harvard Law School professors Jody Freeman and Martha Minow explain that increased government contracting has “fueled complaints about a host of problems with the contracting process, including misconduct in the selection of contractors, illegal or abusive action by private actors who elude public sanction, ineffective and inefficient performance by contractors, and end runs around the demands of transparent democratic accountability.”
However, while some private contracts may have been problematic, there is little to no evidence that this has ever happened with private bus companies. Therefore, transparency and accountability have not caused issues between school boards and private transportation companies, so stopping their payments is ineffective. The school boards claim that it is not financially efficient to pay private bus companies that are not currently providing services. However, continuing to pay them will ultimately save school districts money and time. When it is safe to transport students on buses again, school districts will not have to find new bus companies to complete this job. If they discontinue the payments, they will just end up wasting more money in the long run trying to find a new private company.
This is a very important problem affecting many Connecticut residents. The Connecticut Department of Education is strongly encouraging in-person learning, which will require more school buses. The CT Department of Education claims that students do not seem to be contracting the virus from school. Rather, a majority of infected students are contracting it from activities done outside of school.
As stated by the chief performance officer for the education department, Ajit Gopalakrishnan, “The evidence so far suggests that the cases that schools are reporting to us may really be originating from activities that happen outside of school rather than transmission within the school, so we’re really not hearing from [the state Department of Public Health] that transmission is happening in our schools.” As the CT Department of Education is pushing for in-person classes, this will increase the need for school buses.
The New York Times described the pandemic’s impact on a private bus company in New York owned by Glenn Every: “To stay afloat [he] furloughed nearly all 32 of his staff members, including his son. His company has lost $750,000 because of the pandemic, a critical blow for his business, which averages $2 million a year in revenue.” If school districts continue not to pay these companies, bus companies may be forced to shut down. By resuming payments immediately, the private bus companies will be able to stay afloat. When all schools are able to return to in-person classes, it will be critical that private bus companies are ready to transport students to school.
Caroline Sullivan is a current junior at Trinity College, majoring in Public Policy and Law.