Tought Leader

It’s Not About Public or Private, but the Best One for the Job


ne of the greatest misconcep- tions I believe our industry fosters is that privatization is the end-all, be-all to solving our

problems and improving efficiencies. Kudos to our brothers and sisters in the contracting world for doing a marvelous job marketing this image.

What is stopping some school districts

from creating the same image of efficient and exceptional customer service in the public sector? Just ourselves. Frankly, by not becoming students of our own processes and services, we in the public sector continue to provide plenty of ammunition to foster this illusion. Don’t misunderstand me, privatization is still a viable option in many cases. I am a veteran of the private sector, after all, having worked as a restaurant manager and as a supervisor of newspaper carriers and collections before my career in student transportation. But a well- run operation is a well-run operation, regardless if it is privately or publicly owned and operated. So I would like to believe that the public provided service can do as well or even better than private business, as long as student transporters do the right things. Districts can and should be competitive with private bus companies as long as they are willing to review their practices and to invest in their people, processes and infrastructure. Te largest cost difference is going to be salaries and benefits. Tat is an area that, in the near fu- ture, may be more of an advantage for districts to retain employees at a better rate than their private counterparts, as many districts are looking to spend less on its most valuable resource, people. It has been my pleasure to have had the opportunity to manage a number of support service functions in school systems. Over the years I have led risk manage- ment, safety, delivery and mail, printing (reprographics), warehouse, surplus, summer school, cartage and hauling, transportation, and fleet management. When I was asked to lead our auxiliary services teams, all of which con- sisted of incredibly hard working people who produced a great service, I was told to turn them around or shut them down. Why? Tey were not profitable in terms of being self-supporting. It was not because they did not work hard or because they were not valued. It was their

32 School Transportation News • APRIL 2016

business models that needed improvement. A solution all school districts should pursue

is improving business practices. I know from personal experience about sharing services to defray costs, as in the 1970s, I coordinated the efforts of the first transportation co-op of nine districts in Washington State. Currently, we have as many districts providing coordinated transportation service in the Salem, Oregon, area. In addition to school districts we also

provide service to other organizations, such as the Ore- gon Department of Education, Chemeketa Community College, Community Action Head Start and Blanchet Catholic Schools. Auxiliary services also serves hundreds of not-for profit agencies. Aside from managing people, these functions have business processes, data measurements and organiza- tional structure in common. In my opinion, too many people, from public policy experts to politicians, make the mistake of presuming that the automatic solution is privatization. Te solution is not whether you contract or whether you remain a publicly operated system. Te pursuit of good business practices is. Invest! Raise up and train your leaders. Have clear outcomes and ways to measure progress, expect some failures and help those leading through setbacks with solid coaching and mentoring. It seems easier to contract out a service as so aptly suggested by our private counter- parts or the think tank organizations. Another aspect to consider is either an internal self-examination or external review of your operation. Once you commit to either of those choices then a long term relationship to monitor and follow up on the progress, to provide coaching and redirection. Private companies do provide a solid alterna- tive, there is no doubt. If you do your homework you to can succeed and exceed your districts expectations. 

Michael Shields has 33 years of experience as a director of transportation, the last 14 at Salem-Keizer School District in Salem, Oregon. Previously, he served as a director of transportation at districts in Washington state, and he is also experienced in school safety, risk management, fleet services and crossing guard programs.

Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52