Hills. Schools explore privatizing school bus transportation

Tampa, Florida -- School bus drivers are fighting to keep their benefits as the Hillsborough County School District discusses opting to outsource its bus transportation system to a private company. It's one option among many, according to Hillsborough County School Board Member Candy Olson.

"There are no simple solutions," said Olson. "You can't order a bus today and get it tomorrow."

At a school board meeting Tuesday, the Board listened to many school bus drivers complain about the idea of outsourcing. They expressed their deep concerns with losing their insurance, retirement, and potentially their jobs.

The district has faced obstacles, including spending more than $60 million a year on transportation, and there is a need to cut back, the Board explained.

Buses are old and in need constant need of maintenance repairs. Drivers also complain the radios don't work and asked how a private contract company can properly train drivers about children's behavior.

"Some children misbehave, and call us names and we are specifically trained to not allow that to distract us from driving," said Hillsborough County bus driver Annie-Marie Lockley. She has been driving middle and elementary school children to and from school for three years.

The district is also trying to find a way to handle students who misbehave -- students bus drivers want to face the consequence of not being allowed back on the bus.

"The issue with that is the schools say if the student is not allowed onto the buses, then how will they get to school to learn? So we are trying to find the appropriate action there too," said Olson.

Olson also said there are several solution the board is looking at in the next month.

"We could buy more buses. Figure that out and get them. Whether we buy them or lease them that would solve a lot of the problems and address a lot of the frustrations; fix the radios, figure out ways to address discipline that respect the concerns of the drivers and the concerns of the schools."

She said as of now the Board is not favoring privatizing the bus transportation system, but they are looking at it as an option.

Olson has also listened to parents concerns about their children's safety.

WTSP 10 News viewers have voiced their opinions about it on Facebook:

Susan writes: "Will a private contractor do thorough background checks? So no child abusers around children?"

Robert writes: "Are my kids safe with them driving? Will the private contractors protect my kids from other kids? Will they make sure my kids are dropped off at the right school?"

"Students safety is our first priority," said Olson. "If we made that decision to privatize we would say: here are the qualifications drivers have to pass. They still have to have that very special driver's license. And proper training that we would develop to our liking because we can write into the contract whatever we want."


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