Boston doesn’t have enough money to fully fund important early education and special-education initiatives. But it apparently does have enough to give jobs to four men the mayor previously said had endangered the safety of elementary-school age children.
That assessment may sound harsh, but how else should students and parents interpret the puzzling decision to reinstate the four school bus drivers who were fired for organizing an illegal 2013 work stoppage? The timing, amid budget woes at the Boston Public Schools, only makes a bad move worse.
When the drivers walked off the job Oct. 8, 2013, without warning, they left children stranded at the curb and parents panicking. The passage of time shouldn’t dull memories of how irresponsibly a large contingent of the drivers behaved that day. Mayor Walsh, then a candidate, had it right when he said, “The bus drivers have put our children in harm’s way. This is an illegal action, causing a huge disruption.”
The four drivers were fired by Transdev, the contractor that manages the school bus system. And, despite a concerted effort by the drivers’ sympathizers to rewrite history and cast Transdev as the instigator of the stoppage, the terminations were amply fair, since at the time the drivers were covered by a contract with a no-strike clause.
Still, the drivers union pressed to reinstate the four men. And in a reversal, the company hired them back recently as it concluded a new four-year labor contract.
Richard Weir, a spokesman for the BPS, confirmed the reinstatement of the four drivers in an e-mail to the Globe. He characterized it as a Transdev action. In a statement, Walsh’s spokeswoman didn’t directly respond to a questions about whether the mayor supported the reinstatement of the drivers or played any role in reaching the agreement, but said he “expects only the highest level of professionalism from anyone charged with delivering kids between home and school.”
Transdev said in a statement it does not discuss personnel decisions as a matter of policy. Yet it’s implausible to imagine that the company reversed course on its own. In its agreement with Transdev, the city is responsible for paying labor costs.
Adding the drivers back to the payroll means there’s no accountability for a day that could have ended tragically. It may also inflate the city’s costs going forward, since there’s no evidence that Transdev was short-staffed and needed four more employees. At the least, it means four jobs went to individuals the city knows have abused their positions in the past.
Boston already pays through the nose for transportation, taking money that could be used for education. According to a January report by Education Resource Strategies, a nonprofit consulting group, Boston pays nearly twice as much per pupil for student transportation as comparable districts. Transportation costs consume roughly $94.7 million.
It is certainly true that four salaries won’t break the budget on their own. But at a time when parents and students are being asked for patience as BPS deals with slowing state aid, Boston can’t afford signs of mismanagement. And if rehiring the four drivers isn’t lax management, then what is?