There may be some rough sledding ahead for in the next couple of months, as school officials, caught in an ever-tightening budget crunch, continue to seek ways to cut expenditures.
As early as Dec. 12, the district could decide to hire a private contractor to provide its transportation services — a move that Gary Grizaffi, assistant superintendent for administrative services, has said could save more than $1 million.
According to Grizaffi, a $3.6 million reduction in state aid has left Valley View with “a large gap and no relief in sight.” As part of an effort to close that gap, in September, school officials began closely evaluating the district’s transportation costs.
Valley View currently employs more than 250 employees in its transportation department, all of whom could face layoffs if the district opts to outsource. But during a public hearing last night, Grizaffi assured transportation workers in the audience that they would likely find jobs with any private company the district may hire.
“If the decision is made (to outsource), probably 95 percent would come back to work,” Grizaffi said. “Why would (a private company) not want to hire 250 experienced employees?”
James Canady, president of the local AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees ), seemed to find little comfort in Grizaffi’s statements. He urged board members to exercise caution when making decisions that will affect the safety and well-being of all students in the district.
Canady said many of Valley View’s bus drivers have worked in the profession for up to 20 years and have proven their worth. But he fears the quality of drivers will “falter” if the school district hires a company whose main concern is profit, rather than safety.
“You start compromising the type of people you get,” Canady said. “I am very, very, very concerned with safety. Just look at our record. We are professional drivers.”
He also cautioned school officials to weigh the impact outsourcing would have on the quality transportation system the district has built up over the years.
“You will tear this system apart,” Canady said. “A majority of our drivers live in the community — and we always hear from teachers and administrators that we are a family. But I feel like a stepchild right now.”
Rich Strom, a Romeoville resident since 1970, urged board members to seek ways to cut the budget other than outsourcing its transportation department.
“We don’t need to be putting our (bus) drivers in the unemployment line,” Strom said.
Strom also expressed concerns about the safety records of private transportation companies. He said he had witnessed several such drivers speeding on Interstate 55 with busloads of students — and had seen ill-maintained buses from those same private companies spewing black smoke behind them.
“It’s like following a crop duster,” Strom said.
After hearing comments from union officials, bus drivers and community members for nearly an hour, board vice president Rick Gougis emphasized that school officials are evaluating transportation costs as one part of the district’s cost-cutting efforts.
“We are going to have to make tough choices,” Gougis said. But, he added, “I am not going to do anything I deem as unsafe or not in students’ best interests.”
“This is just the beginning,” Gougis reassured district transportation employees at the hearing. “We really appreciate what you do.”