Last stop for government’s bus wardens?

Wednesday’s front-page Compass story entitled “Bus wardens fear end of the road ahead” may, on first glance, not appear overly significant, given the other woes of the world.

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.


  1. I think that as a society we have taken the parents role out of the classroom and turned it into the teachers responsibility to educate and raise our children. More than once, after being reprimanded @ school, I got a pretty good reminder as to why I was going to school via an (expletive) whipping. There is no structure in the homes any more, as parents are told that should they spank,reprimand their child they, themselves could be charged for some crime. Time to wake up. Without structure and a basic law of physics, action reaction, our children are lost. Monitoring of children today is deemed Necessary and as violence among young people has risen, we need someone on hand to make sure all children are safe going to and whilst in school. A sad note to our society.

  2. Daniel hit it right on the nose. What we are witnessing are the direct results of what I call the timeout generation. Spare the rod and spoil the child is written in the bible yet so many so called Christians chose to ignore that while claiming they are god’s children and live by the bible. Growing up in not so good a neighborhood I will be then first to admit that is was the switch that kept me out of trouble and encouraged me to do good in school and while I thought then that mom was to hard on me I certainly appreciated it as I got older and watched all the other kids who’s parent let them get away with anything turn out to be losers. I asked my mother one day why she was so hard on me when I was young and her response was that she did it because she loved me and wanted me to turn out to be a good man and that what I turned out to be was a direct reflection on her. She said she wasn’t about to raise any child to be a loser or have to speak to him from the other side of a prison cell.

  3. 23 Wardens @ 1700 per month
    Not far short of half a million per annum.
    In my day we had ‘prefects’ who were older students (year 11 – 15/16) who had shown role model/trustworthy behaviour – they would keep an eye on things and make notes if there was poor behaviour. Repeat offenders would be barred from the bus.
    Not everyone got to be a prefect and it was a good thing to put on a CV when you left school and started looking for that first job.
    While it is never a nice thing when somebody looks like losing even a part time job, the government finally looks to be embracing the concept of ‘OR’ ;-
    We can have half a million dollars of textbooks and sports equipment -OR- we can have bus wardens? Hmm, now which has the greatest benefit to the students…

  4. What has not been mentioned, wardens or not, is a full scale knock down drag out fight which distracts the driver mentally or physically to such an extent that he loses control and it results in a major crash.

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