Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Accountability? Not!

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:11 AM |  

Sometimes, just letting people talk and make their case is the best way to illuminate the fallacy of their argument.

In today’s Pioneer Press, Sen. Scott Dibble opines on an important topic -- school bus safety. His villain is First Student, a subsidiary of Scotland-based First-Group. The first sins of First Student Dibble lists are that the parent company makes $110 million on its North American operations and pays less than 2 percent in taxes.

Apparently it has negotiated contracts with local school districts that guarantee annual increases in fees and shift the rising cost of fuel onto school districts. It offers its drivers no paid sick leave, no affordable health insurance, and low wages. It has a high turnover rate. All of which contribute to unsafe and inefficient operation of school bus transportation.

After that , I’m not sure what Dibble’s conclusion is. He states --
In order to improve bus transportation safety and quality, school board members in Minneapolis and St. Paul are considering whether to increase fines for poor service and whether to give the district more flexibility to shift service away from poorly performing contractors. They would also insist that bus companies allow employees to have a bare minimum of sick time so drivers would not have to choose between driving while not at their best and being able to pay their rent or feed their children.

All of Minnesota's school districts should have these tools to best manage their school bus systems and successfully evaluate contractors, because our kids deserve the safest, highest quality and well-functioning bus transportation service that our tax dollars can provide.
I’m not sure I understand, but it seems to be, given what Dibble writes about First Student, that school districts did not do their due diligence or make a very wise choice when it comes to selecting student transportation. Instead of taking shots, justified or not, at the company providing the service, why not state the obvious -- somebody in the school system isn’t doing his job. What other tools do they need besides good judgment?

Dibble’s argument is reminiscent of my flap with Nick Coleman over the fact that Maxfield Elementary School in St. Paul didn’t have enough reading books. Coleman’s point was Maxfield's problems were the fault of legislators for not allocating enough funding when the real question ought to have been “What is the school spending money on such that it doesn’t have money for books?”

Why is the major argument against school vouchers always that private schools aren’t held accountable, but when a situation arises that begs for accountability, public schools always shift the blame?

I’m not defending First Student as company or its practices. I don’t know enough about them. But I do know enough about business to know that unless First Student actually committed fraud and lied to school authorities about its practices, then the fault for unsafe school buses lies with the person that contracted with First Student, not the company.

That’s the point Dibble should be making.