I’m guessing that unless you have children going to one of the elementary schools, you more than likely don’t know who your children’s bus drivers are.
Oh sure, one way or another, unless you’ve been asleep for the past several months, you’ve heard about the school transportation issue and the various controversies surrounding it but do you really know anything about who some of these folks are, their names or what they even look like?
In an effort to put a more "human" face to this issue, I met recently with two owner operators, Phil Carroll and Marsha Moskowitz.
In the event you are still somewhat out of the loop let me briefly explain that for the last 80 or so years, Newtown school children have been transported to and from school by individuals who live in Newtown and own their own buses as opposed to those who drive for a large fleet company.
Starting in the fall of 2012, this system will end. All Star Transportation, based in Torrington, Connecticut, has been awarded a contract to provide transportation services for the next five years.
Phil and Marsha have been owner operators and Newtown residents for many years. Phil has a very long history in Newtown and he’s been an owner-operator for 16 years. Marsha also has lived in Newtown for many years and been an owner-operator for about a dozen years. Even before purchasing a bus and signing an owner-operator contract, Marsha was a substitute driver.
I met with them recently to try to get a sense for how they, and through their conversations, the other owner operators, feel about what has been going on and their plans for the future.
Phil and Marsha report they haven’t decided what the next step is going to be for them.
Like many of the other drivers, it’s not just a simple matter of walking away and finding another job. They have a very tangible asset involved — an $80,000 school bus. You don’t just drive up to your local school bus broker and come away with a fistful of money. You need to find a buyer, sell it and more than likely take a loss.
On top of that some of the O/Os put their houses up as collateral against the loan they received to buy the bus. Now their houses are at stake. In fact Phil and Marsha report that most of their colleagues will be forced to leave town.
Even if they got another job driving for another bus company for, say, $13 to $15 an hour for six hours a day for 180 or so days…well, you do the math. Can you afford to live in Newtown (or anywhere else) on that? Me neither.
In addition to the financial hardship and uncertainty for the future faced by these folks, their biggest regret is not being able to see the children and parents they’ve been serving every day. They don’t look upon themselves as simple employees. They’re in every sense of the word public servants. They genuinely care about what they do and who they serve.
Coupled to this regret, though, is no small measure of anger and frustration for what they generally view as a complete betrayal and conspiracy at the highest levels.
Their thinking is that they have been victimized and targeted from Day One. But, in spite of what we read and hear, many of the owner operators cling to the belief that this is not a done deal by a long shot. That's something we'll have to wait and see about.
One last thing. As I sat there in the Panera Bread Diner, talking to Phil and Marsha, I was amazed at the number of people who came up and greeted them.
They truly are part of our community – but, for now at least, it appears to be the end of a long, valuable tradition unique to Newtown.