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ESP Success Story: Survey Helps End Outsourcing Experiment in Illinois

The three-year experiment of outsourcing 15 percent of school bus routes in Naperville Community Unit School District 203 ended in failure earlier this year. Max Bochmann knew it would. He’s been with Naperville public schools for 38 years. Bochmann is a bus driver and president of the Naperville Transportation Association (NTA), and a member of the Illinois Education Association's executive committee. He knows his stuff.

In 2006, when the school board announced that it wanted to sub-contract a portion of the district’s 138 regular and daily bus routes, Bochmann knew it would fail.

But knowing it and proving it are two different things.

“My response three years ago was to produce a survey which proved that we district drivers were largely middle-aged adults who live in the community, owned homes in the district, voted in local elections, attended local places of worship, did our banking and grocery shopping here – right here where we work,” he says. “We knew where our drivers came from. The (private) bus company didn’t, and the survey helped us limit the outsourcing to only 15 percent of the work.”

During negotiations with NTA earlier this year, a reasonable settlement was achieved, and school district officials did not renew their contract with the bus company, First Student. As of July 1, all drivers in District 203 will again be in-house staff.

“The survey showed that a major cross-section of our district drivers were members of the community,” says Bochmann, an executive committee member of the National Council for Education Support Professionals. “The best employee to put face-to-face with a student is one who is screened, hired, and managed by the school system, and not by people who do this work for profit.”

First Student became the largest private school bus transportation company in the world after its parent company, U.K.-based FirstGroup, bought Laidlaw International. The company’s corporate headquarters happen to be located in Naperville.

While First Student no longer has drivers in District 203, they provide bus service to Naperville’s larger Indian Prairie School District 204. Earlier this month, 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 student to get off the bus mid-route because she didn’t have written permission from her school to ride a different bus than usual. In a separate incident on the same day in District 204, a driver exposed himself to a female fifth-grader.

“First Student here in the western suburbs is not having a good month,” Bochmann says.

Though delighted about the contract victory in District 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 significant similarities . . . bus service is not one of them.”

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