Survey helps support professionals end bus outsourcing in Illinois.
By John Rosales
NTA officers Jerry Kucera, Marla Davis, Max Bochmann, and members produced a survey on bus drivers to prove the benefits of hiring in-house employees.
Photo: Bob Ray
The three-year experiment of outsourcing 15 percent of school bus routes in the Naperville Community Unit School District 203 ended in failure earlier this year.
Max Bochmann knew it would. For 38 years, he’s been a bus driver for the Naperville, Illinois, public schools, served as president of the Naperville Transportation Association (NTA), and been a member of the Illinois Education Association executive committee.
In 2006, when the school board announced it wanted to sub-contract a portion of the district’s 138 regular and daily bus routes, Bochmann knew it was a bad idea for the district and its students. He knew that the situation involved more than money.
He knew the nuances of both sides of the argument. But knowing and proving are two different things.
“My response then was to produce a survey showing that a major cross-section of our district drivers are members of the community. We are largely middle-aged adults who own homes in the district, vote in local elections, attend local places of worship, and do our banking and grocery shopping right here where we work,” he says. “We know where our drivers come from. The [private] bus company didn’t, and our survey data helped us limit the outsourcing to only 15 percent of the work.”
Adds Bochmann, who is also an executive committee member of the National Council for Education Support Professionals (NCESP), “The best employee to put face-to-face with a student is one who is screened, hired, and managed by the school system—not by people who do this work for profit.”
Since 2006, NTA’s strategy has exceeded their expectations. During negotiations earlier this year, with survey in hand, NTA officials convinced the district to not renew their contract with First Student. Currently, all District 203 drivers are in-house.
First Student became the largest private school bus transportation company in the world after its parent company, U.K.-based FirstGroup, bought Laidlaw International—which happens to be located in Naperville.
While First Student no longer has drivers in District 203, they do provide bus service to Naperville’s larger Indian Prairie School District 204. In May of this year, the company experienced a public relations nightmare in a school district not far from its headquarters.
A First Student driver operating in District 204 was fired after he forced a 13-year-old to get off the bus mid-route because she didn’t have written permission from her school to ride that particular bus. In a separate incident on the same day in 204, a driver exposed himself to a female fifth-grader.
“First Student here in the western suburbs is not having a good month,” Bochmann said at the time.
Though delighted about the contract victory in 203, Bochmann says NTA members take issue with the media for lumping Naperville’s outsourced and in-house bus drivers in the same category.
“The mainstream media is often willing to just call us ‘Naperville bus drivers,’ but there’s a big difference between us,” he says. “Districts 203 and 204 have many similarities ... bus service is not one of them.”