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October 01, 2007  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Illinois limits school contracts


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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A new Illinois law promises to put a damper on new contracts between school districts and private school bus operators, and other states could soon follow suit.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich approved a bill amending the state’s school code to apply new rules for school boards that outsource support services.

Under the new law, districts are not allowed to enter into a contract during collective bargaining, and contracts can be for no more than two years.

In addition, both the district and the contractor must make cost projections for each expense category, which cannot be increased during the contract. The school board must provide a cost comparison, and a minimum of two public hearings to discuss the proposal must be held.

In addition, the contractor must match the wage and benefits package of current employees and offer positions to all qualified employees displaced by the contract. The contractor must also list the number of employees providing the services, wages, a minimum three-year cost projection and information about the criminal and disciplinary records of the employees.

The new law went into effect Aug. 17. It does not apply to districts where non-instructional services were already being provided by a third party on the effective date.

Robin Leeds, industry specialist for the National School Transportation Association (NSTA), expressed contractors’ dismay over the bill’s success.

“We think that it’s a disservice, not just to the private companies that provide school support services, but it’s also a disservice to the boards of education in Illinois who may be looking at alternatives to providing their own support services,” Leeds said. “They’re also looking for efficiencies and cost-savings, and this bill will essentially prevent them from exercising that option.”

The bill was supported by teacher and public employee unions in Illinois. Leeds said that it is misleading for unions to hold up the threat of loss of jobs as justification for this kind of legislation, because incoming contractors give preference to employees already in the system, particularly school bus drivers.

“It’s in the contractor’s best interest to do that, because those drivers know the kids, the routes, the parents, the town,” Leeds said. “They are in fact the biggest asset that the school district has, and that the contractor assumes.”

The NSTA believes that the bill’s passage in Illinois could spur unions to push for similar legislation in other states. The first law of this kind was passed in California in 2002, Leeds said. The association has been monitoring similar efforts in Minnesota, Michigan, Oregon and Ohio.

The measure limiting contracts in Ohio was not a standalone bill, but rather a provision in the governor’s budget bill that would have repealed the ability of local school districts to outsource transportation.

“The school transportation community and the contractors were successful in getting that provision removed from the bill,” Leeds said.

The bill in Minnesota would apply only to school transportation contracts. The Minnesota School Bus Operators Association and regional educational associations are fighting the measure.

“The education administration community is always opposed to these bills, because it limits their options,” Leeds said.

Bills proposed in Minnesota and Oregon have been tabled in committee and are likely to be brought up in the next legislative sessions in those states. Minnesota’s next session begins in February 2008. Oregon’s is scheduled for 2009, as the Legislature convenes every two years.

In Michigan, lawmakers are considering a bill that doesn’t go as far as the Illinois bill, according to Leeds, but it would make a school board’s decision to outsource support services a subject of collective bargaining. “This bill inserts union control into the school board’s decision-making,” Leeds said.

Up to this point, the NSTA has depended on state school transportation associations to fight this type of legislation when it is proposed, rather than contacting lawmakers directly. “But as this is becoming a bigger issue, we expect to get more actively involved in the state process,” Leeds said. “We’re certainly seeing it crop up now more than we have in the past, and it’s a trend we’d like to nip in the bud.”

The association is networking with educational organizations and other support service groups.

“We’re in the process of contacting some of those groups to see where our allies are and how we can work together,” Leeds said.


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