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Article updated: 1/18/2013 8:18 AM

Palatine schools study busing options

By Melissa Silverberg

Palatine Township Elementary District 15 hasn't decided whether to outsource bus transportation or keep it in house. But the district has gotten two bids from outside companies at the same time it is continuing to negotiate with the transportation union on a new contract.

On Wednesday Superintendent Scott Thompson told the school board about the bids, but also announced a negotiating team has been established to work with the district's transportation union on a possible new contract when theirs expires in June.

The bids, both for three-year contracts, came from First Student and Durham School Services. However, district officials said the numbers in those bids don't provide a direct comparison to what the district currently provides.

Thompson said it will take time to determine how much cost savings is available, so a detailed cost comparison will be done later this winter.

Bus drivers and parents addressed the board Wednesday to oppose privatization, citing potential child safety and employee issues.

"If you believe this school district will maintain the same quality of service as you have today, you're mistaken," said union President Carin Ulrich.

The district has said that if it outsources busing, its laid-off employees may be rehired by the company that wins the bid. Ulrich said that is no consolation to her members because of changes in salaries, benefits and management.

"It makes a big difference to us whether we work for you or for an outsourced, for-profit company," she said.

The transportation union was formed in 2010 and represents about 200 bus drivers, aides, mechanics and clerical staffers working on a district-owned fleet of 166 buses.

"If you outsource, you're going to regret it," said Lisa Horst, a parent and former bus driver for both a private company and public school district.

"You don't get the same type of service. If it's coming down to money, look at the rest of the budget."

Deanna Gile broke into tears telling the board about her special needs daughter who she said has always had good experiences with the district's bus drivers.

"I have no worries about her when I put her on that bus, but I am worried that if we go to an outsourced company it won't be the same," Gile said. "Please don't add this to all the things I already have to be concerned with."

While the district examines the bids, a negotiating team made up of board members Tim Millar, Scott Herr and Manjula Sriram will continue negotiating with the transportation union on a contract.

Thompson said the board may schedule a special meeting to solely address bus transportation later this winter, but it will also be discussed at the Feb. 13 school board meeting.

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