By Katie McCabe
The School Reform Commission voted Monday to outsource the three top management positions in its transportation department, but recessed until Wednesday to allow more time for talks with the labor union representing bus drivers, mechanics, and other blue-collar workers whose jobs could be facing a similar fate.
Layoffs for all 2,700 workers represented by SEIU Local 32BJ District 1201 are slated to begin Sunday if a deal isn’t reached this week. The District has already lined up private contractors willing to take over all transportation and facilities management services at a $50 million discount.
But officials said that Monday’s vote, to unanimously approve a three-year, $2.7 million contract to the TransPar group, will have no bearing on talks with 32BJ.
“This vote is independent of the negotiations with 32BJ,” said Thomas Knudsen, the District's chief recovery officer.
TransPar is a management and consulting firm with a track record of helping school districts cut transportation costs.
One focus of the group’s work will be selecting and implementing an automated bus-routing program for the District. Knudsen said the District now uses laminated maps and grease pencils to plan its routes.
“We are … maybe the only large urban district that has not purchased an automated routing package software,” explained Jennie Wu, the District’s deputy chief of strategic planning. “With the help of TransPar, we would move forward making that purchase.”
In response to questions from Commissioner Lorene Cary, Wu said that TransPar has helped school districts in Chicago; Orange County, Calif.; New Orleans; and elsewhere to get more buses showing up on time and to decrease the amount of time students spend in transit.
They have also helped to save those districts millions of dollars, Wu said.
The District has said it must realize $50 million in savings for transportation, custodial, and maintenance services as part of its efforts to close a budget gap that could be as large as $282 million.
Also at Monday’s meeting, the SRC approved license fee agreements for four new Renaissance turnaround charter schools set to open in September:
Creighton Elementary (Universal Companies)
Cleveland Elementary (Mastery Charter Schools)
Edmunds Elementary (String Theory)
Jones Middle (American Paradigm Schools).
The agreements essentially permit the charter operators to occupy District buildings rent-free. The operators can choose either to reimburse the District for building maintenance, cleaning and other facilities-related costs, or to assume responsibility for providing those services themselves.
Thomas Darden, who oversees the District’s Renaissance charters, told the SRC that the District’s decision not to charge Renaissance operators rent is based on legal advice.
“As a result of the District’s facilities being financed with tax-exempt bonds,” Darden said, “the approach we used to charge the actual costs would keep us in compliance with IRS regulations.”
Monday’s meeting will resume at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, and an update on the District’s negotiations with 32BJ is expected at that session.