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Editorial & Opinion

Teamsters Local 251: Providence needs to invest public money in the community



Partnership for Rhode Island Audit is Misleading and Biased

The recent release of Partnership for Rhode Island’s audit of Providence Public Schools (conducted on behalf of the organization by Ernst & Young) is another public relations snow job on behalf of the business community.

“A race to the bottom is not the answer,” said Matthew Taibi, Secretary-Treasurer for Teamsters Local 251. “Our economy should be measured according to how many working families are succeeding, not how many rich people are succeeding. In regards to budgetary concerns, the City of Providence should stop giving tax breaks to wealthy developers who are not committed to providing family-supporting jobs for workers.”

The report concludes that Providence “appears to pay 40 percent more per pupil than the median cost” of student transportation among a cherry-picked group of other school districts. There is something to be said about how the City of Providence sets up its bus routes, which is different from every other school district in the State of Rhode Island. Every other district has community schooling, whereas Providence does not. This definitely adds to the cost of student transportation.

The core issues that come to mind with student transportation are pay and benefits for the workers involved. Is paying more wages for student transportation workers inherently bad for a community? Absolutely not. Public dollars should be spent on creating decent salaries and benefits for those who live in in the community. Dollars spent on the wages of local workers means dollars spent at area businesses. Dollars spent on quality health care means less reliance on public services. Dollars spent on retirement benefits means that our communities’ retirees can enjoy their post-work years without the worries of economic insecurity.

The $295,000 study is not a non-partisan examination by a reputable, disinterested accounting firm. The Partnership for Rhode Island is a front group for big business’ complex lobbying operation. Ernst and Young, the professional services firm that conducted the audit, has an international reputation that includes paying more than $150 million in SEC settlements for its auditing failures in 2016 alone.

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There is a statewide shortage of qualified bus drivers. Part-time jobs with no benefits are not the answer to transporting the most valuable resource we have: our children. Providence is one of the only municipalities with proper school bus driver staffing in Rhode Island. East Providence school bus drivers voted to join the Teamsters; monitors and aides are scheduled for a union vote soon. Most communities in Rhode Island have unionized school transportation workers, and by doing so they invest public money back into their communities with fair pay, benefits and working conditions.

Don’t let big businesses’ never-ending thirst for better balance sheets fool you. Keeping tax dollars in the community is the right way to spend public money.

Teamsters Local 251 represents drivers for First Student in Providence, along with drivers and monitors at First Student and Ocean State Transit in a number of other communities throughout Rhode Island.