However, we believe this article introduces some of the larger issues facing the country and deserves further comment.
To summarize, approximately two dozen “wardens,” most of them retired or semi-retired women, board Cayman’s school buses each day to keep order among the students.
Government is now considering privatizing these positions, and the wardens, understandably, are concerned that if their fate is in the hands of the private sector, they may very well lose their jobs.
Their circumstances put into sharp focus key issues surrounding government’s current plan to privatize many of the functions now performed by the civil service. Accounting firm Ernst & Young is currently examining which businesses, services and departments could be run more efficiently by the private sector.
Employment security has always been at the heart of the resistance to privatization and, as this matter illustrates, for good reason: It is highly unlikely that going forward, private companies would continue to employ all of these wardens. Here’s why:
They are overpaid. For their services, the wardens receive $1,700 per month (or, assuming they ride the buses three hours per day, about $25 per hour, which annualizes to a full-time salary of $50,000 per year).
Their performance, in some instances, is questionable. Lenworth Smith, a bus operator for 25 years, told the Compass, “I have less problems with children riding the buses and more problems with the wardens … half of them seldom turn up for work.”
Mechanization, in the form of cameras, is diminishing the need for the services these wardens provide.
And, importantly, private sector employers will likely be reluctant to follow government’s lead on using wardens to maintain order on its school buses. One would think well-trained security guards would be better qualified to perform peacekeeping duties — if they are indeed necessary.
In the public sector, a common assumption is that job tenure lasts forever; in the private sector, not so. Job security in the private sector is based on performance, productivity, profitability and market conditions.
(We are reminded of an incident many years ago at The Washington Post when famed editor Ben Bradlee was interviewing a young man for a copy editor position. The applicant asked for a three-year contract. Bradlee laughed and replied that even he didn’t have a contract. In fact, he encouraged his journalists to “edit with their hats on” because they could be leaving at any moment.)
Further, we would contend that the discussions on this issue — so central to the privatization initiative — are too narrowly framed. The larger matter is not whether these wardens get to keep their jobs but why their jobs are needed in the first place.
Has behavior in our schools (and, by proxy, on our school buses) deteriorated so badly that our students require wardens (quasi-guards, really) to enforce discipline and ensure decorum?
Compass readers recently expressed outrage after we published a front-page story on a 15-year-old John Gray High School student who punched his teacher in the face, kicking him viciously after he fell to the ground.
If student behavior has indeed deteriorated to the degree suggested by mounting anecdotal evidence, retirement-aged wardens or even properly trained security guards may not be enough. We may soon require the services of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.