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An Open Letter to Metro School Bus Drivers

April 18, 2010

Dear public servants who hold our kid’s lives in your hands,

first day school bus ritual
Image by woodleywonderworks via Flickr

Well, we’ve come to the most important week of the year for Metro Nashville Schools, the week that our children are tested to see if our schools are meeting the mark in teaching certain skills. Of course TCAP tests start tomorrow, and principals have been sending home letters telling kids to be fully prepared for what is to come, for in all honesty, the future of our school system is on the line. TCAP’s are vitally important — both in demonstrating that our schools are succeeding in teaching, and also helping to inspire more adequate investment in the school system.

You know this, which is why I find myself worrying about the rumor on the streets that a sudden epidemic of “yellow flu” is about to hit tomorrow and all through the week. This rumor, which comes from very credible sources, says that you bus drivers want folks to recognize your importance, and the follow of the proposed budget cuts which will decrease your pay. You feel, with good reason given what is happening to your brother and sister custodians, that this is a first step down the road to privatization, and taking a stance during the most important week of the school year will make your grievances more visible to the public. So, while there won’t be an actual strike next week, the word on the street is that there will be a slow down of sorts, a sudden rash of drivers calling in sick, creating havoc at this important time. It’s a standard organizing technique, one that has been used with success in the past, and I understand the impetus behind it. But hear me now: I think you may be shooting yourselves in the foot, and ultimately harming your cause rather than helping it.

Trust me, I understand your concerns and agree with them. I think that the average Nashvillian has no concept of the complexity and effort involved in being a school bus driver, and that is even more true for those in leadership in our city who probably have never ridden a school bus, nor allowed or encouraged their own kids to do so either. As I said at the beginning, you have responsibility for the lives of our kids, and frankly we probably don’t pay you enough for what we ask of you. Cutting your pay, and as importantly to me cutting the staff custodians is short sited and will end up costing more in the long run.

But it seems to me that taking action during TCAP week does little but inflame the passions of ordinary moms and dads who want the best education possible for their kids and who know the importance of the week. I think there are a lot more of those folks who are behind you and support you that can be mobilized — but not at the expense of the kids, and your action this week move dangerously into creating less than an ideal climate for kids to do their best. And, if someone the kids are less than successful, it becomes easy for the board, MNPS leaders, and teachers and principals in the local schools to pass the buck and assign you the blame for the failure. If that happens, you are on the quick path to oblivion, for parents don’t want anyone messing with their kids — especially not about work related grievances.

I’m not going to beg you to reconsider — you are intelligent adults and will decide to either do this or not — but I think you need to go into any action with your eyes open. There is a very real chance that a work slow down this week could backfire and you end up being the scapegoats for things that probably aren’t your fault.

Do you need to rise up and make the city take notice? Absolutely.

But just wait until after TCAP week, when the stakes aren’t so high. Otherwise you might find yourself in a game that you never imagined.

Peace,

Jay

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