Lauralee Rocha squealed with joy, a smile spread across her face. The 20-year bus driver swam her way through a sea of drivers, hugging seemingly anyone she could find.
"Oh my gosh, oh my gosh it's unbelievable," she said, after learning the Lansing School District would not privatize its bus services. "This means we can sleep tonight and that our jobs are safe. We have jobs."
Dozens of drivers packed the seats around Rocha for a special school board meeting Thursday, called to revisit a previously tabled proposal. At issue: should the district privatize its buses -- a move the district claims would save $5 million over five years?
Rocha, and her colleagues say no.
"The district will end up paying more over time and the idea that you would lose control of the fleet and the decisions you could make when you sell off your fleet," said Dan Hamilton, of AFSCME Council 25, which represents the bus drivers. "Make a long-term investment in your own equipment, in your own facilities, in your own people."
The public comment section of the meeting lasted nearly an hour, with no voices in support of the tabled proposal, which would outsource the transportation services to Dean Transportation and the Ingham Intermediate School District. East Lansing, Dansville and Webberville have all signed similar agreements in the past. Arguments ranged from financial sense to fiduciary sense -- that the district's current drivers are what's best for the students.
"We don't want them to keep putting it off and putting it off," Hamilton said. "If there's a problem with the fleet, you need to address it and invest in the fleet and work with us."
Members of the board maintained there are clear problems with the way the Lansing buses are operating, but after weeks of discussion, decided privatization was not the way to solve them.
"We have decided that this type of decision takes time and careful consideration and this is not the time," said Board President Peter Spadafore. "Now it's up to the district, the union, the drivers to come together and find a solution."
That solution has to come with the district's budget, due at the end of June. Spadafore says he's hoping to find a long-term solution to LSD's aging fleet of buses -- a majority of which are more than ten years old and must be replaced. That replacement is estimated to cost $4 million.
"I think the district seriously needs to look at the fleet," Spadafore said. "We either need to buy buses, lease buses, or look at a bond proposal that gives us that solution."
For more than 70 drivers though, they can rest easy, at least temporarily.
"Obviously we're pleased," Hamilton said. "We think they did the best thing for the community. We think they did the best thing for the district. Now the hard work begins."