Lee Schools to privatize bus transportation?

Lee Schools to privatize bus transportation?

By Matt Grant. CREATED Jun 6, 2012 - UPDATED: Jun 6, 2012

CAPE CORAL, Fla. - A Lee County school bus driver confronted the school board Tuesday about your kids' safety and her job.

"Rumor has it, I don't know if you all know that song," said school bus driver Kathleen Robinson, "that the bus drivers are trying to be replaced."

The bus driver's union is worried the district could privatize your kids' bus service to save money and warn in the long run that would cost you and them.

The district says any talk of outsourcing is just a rumor.

Still, last month the school board requested a cost comparison between the transportation department and private vendors, including LeeTran.

"LeeTran is a good company," said bus union president Bob Rushlow. "But they're not designed to transport students."

Rushlow worries the district could outsource busing to a private company.

"It is a concern of ours, yes," said Rushlow. "Because, number one, we care about our children."

At the school board briefing meeting on May 1, board chair Mary Fischer called a potential partnership with LeeTran a "win-win."

"It looks like it could be a win-win situation and a money saver on both ends," said Fischer. "It could increase their ridership and decrease our cost. So I really feel we need to move forward on that as quickly as we can."

"We're spending $51 million dollars, 180 days," said board member Tom Scott. "A bus ticket costs a lot less money than that."

Fast forward to Tuesday's meeting and some board members seem to be backing off.

"I have always supported our bus drivers," said board member Jeanne Dozier who asked for the cost comparison to be done. "Have always realized the importance that they have."

"I think it's a rumor," said Fischer. "I don't think we want to get rid of any of you guys."

Since Fischer called the idea a potential "win-win" last month we asked her to clarify her position.

"I don't see any indications that privatization would be advantageous at all," said Fischer, who said she has since done additional research including speaking to other districts that outsource.

"So you would not support it?," asked Fox 4 reporter Matt Grant.

"I would not support it at this time," said Fischer.

But board member Tom Scott appears to be leaving the door open if it means saving money.

"If that means something has to give, something has to be shrunk and transferred elsewhere," said Scott, "I think those are hard questions we'll have to deal with."

At Tuesday's meeting, Scott told the bus drivers in the audience to "take a deep breath and relax."

He did not return our calls for comment.

The bus driver's union says they are willing to work with the board to reduce transportation costs. The district faces a $15 million deficit.

Matt Grant