A school bus outside Kennelly School in Hartford Jacqueline Rabe Thomas / CtMirror.org

As someone who grew up in Connecticut and someone who rode the big yellow school bus for years, I can’t imagine those big yellow buses out of business. When students were transitioned to remote learning, buses remained idle for months. Even though the virus created a budget deficit, state and local governments should have required all Connecticut public schools to pay private bus companies.

As reported in The New York Times, “Federal lawmakers gave school districts $13.5 billion in aid to weather the pandemic, but lawmakers left it up to district administrators to decide whether to pay their private contractors, including school buses.” School districts thought it would be more cost efficient not to pay private bus companies.

Many researchers raise concerns about privatization, arguing that accountability and transparency is lost when we outsource so much to private companies. Some laws do not apply to private contractors and since contracts may lack transparency, it leaves few opportunities for citizen input.

However, contracting with private companies for public school transportation is less concerning because bus companies serve the public’s interest. Buses get our children to and from school safely.

Some argue that contracting only makes sense for commodity tasks, not custom tasks. A commodity task is easy to evaluate, and available from private suppliers. Whereas a custom task requires a special skill and expertise. But, even though being a bus driver is a custom task, due to the special licensing and skills required, it makes sense to contract out because doing so would be more efficient.

Public policy scholar Deborah Stone explains, “Efficiency is a fancy name for a simple idea: getting the most for the least, or achieving an objective for the lowest cost.”

Connecticut school districts thought that it would be cheaper to not pay bus companies this past spring. Schools argue it made sense to get rid of that because the buses were not providing a service to the school. With all due respect they were not but, schools always look at cutting costs without actually thinking about the downfalls to that decision.

School districts also argue that they had additional expenses, such as buying Chrome Books so all students could attend their classes from home. However, bus companies have ongoing costs, including overhead, insurance, drivers’ salaries, and keeping buses up to date. Buses cannot be more than a few years old so companies are always having to buy new buses and it can take years to pay them off.

It is more efficient in the long run to pay private bus companies.  I understand that this pandemic brought a lot of expenses, but at the same time when this is all over if you do not pay your private bus companies their doors will be closed for good. It’s only for the short term and it’s the right thing to do. Refusing to do so jeopardizes transportation for the future.

Big companies like Dattco are in charge of more than one school district and some are in large debt due to the pandemic. How can these bus companies transport these students to school post pandemic when there is no money to do so?

Even smaller bus companies like Premier Bus Lines in Berlin, are struggling. On NBC, the owner stated, “Any funding would help.”

The “Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services Act,” allows aid to be given to transportation services if a pandemic ever happens again. This would allow companies enough to get by. This bill was introduced to the Senate in July, and it has not been passed. Since the federal government has not passed this bill, companies are currently fighting to get funding.

Our Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy co-sponsored the bill, and I urge readers to let our senators know that they strongly support it.  More people need to speak up and when people speak up, we see how effective that can be. All bus drivers and private bus companies can’t do it alone. So far it has been just them fighting and it has not been successful because we have seen no progress. We need to let our voices be heard.

School Transportation News  declares, “Many districts that are not reopening schools for classroom learning on a full-time basis are refusing to pay contractors yet expecting them to be ready to resume full operations with licensed and eligible drivers with less than a week’s notice.”

Are they out of their mind? A lot of bus drivers this past spring had to get a new job at other companies like Amazon and FedEx due to no paycheck. Therefore, bus companies will need more than a week’s notice to find and train drivers. It would be more efficient for school districts to continue paying bus companies because doing so prevents them from losing drivers to other jobs.

A lot of schools began in hybrid mode this fall which means that buses are not running every day. However, recently, schools have been pushing for more in- person learning. As more students go back to schools, more buses have to run. This makes no sense not to pay them and then to ask them back at a moment’s notice. How can schools think that buses are ready to be fully running again?

Call up our senators and let them know we support the Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services Act!

Julie Petrillo is a Junior at Trinity College majoring in Educational Studies and minoring in English.

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