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Privatize school buses? No way, says their union

The Hillsborough County school district is the county's single biggest employer, and that includes more than 1,300 people in the transportation department.

Their pay ranges from just under $8,000 for the aides who assist the special-needs children to between $70,000 and $104 for the top-level managers.

Now the "P" word is being spoken: Privatize.

School Board member Carol Kurdell said it first at Tuesday night's meeting. Along with all the other issues the board is considering -- including which buses to buy to restock an aging fleet -- they should discuss privatization, she said.

The suggestion comes as dozens of drivers turn out at community meetings to complain about their equipment, work conditions and the way the department is run.

Not surprisingly, the idea did not sit well with their union, the Hillsborough Service Employees Federation.

According to Corie Holmes, one of the transportation workers who has been the most vocal, a driver was handed this flyer, and there were stacks of them at the union hall. It asks drivers to turn out en masse at the next school board meeting on April 29 to speak out against privatization.

"This is just a scare tactic to shut us up," Holmes said. Member Susan Valdes agreed, adding that she is glad that at the end of Tuesday's meeting, she assured drivers she continues to hope they will speak out.