PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – More than 100 city employees turned out in force at Monday’s school board meeting to speak out against a proposal that could leave them out of a job if city officials opt to privatize bus monitoring services.

This school district is currently seeking to “evaluate the cost associated with contractor employed bus monitors” as part of a request for proposal for school busing providers, but officials have said they haven’t made a final decision when it comes to private monitors.

The meeting was held at the Providence Career and Technical Academy.

“We are the first person from the district that students see in the morning and the last that they see at the end of the day,” Ron Coia, business manager of Local 1033 of the Laborers’ International Union, which represents the bus monitors, told the school board.

Coia urged members of the board to think about the “well-being of our children.” He said his 121 members – who each earn just over $12 per hour – are “well-trained” and “dedicated” workers.

“Please send a message that the welfare of our children is not for sale,” Coia said.

Christina O’Reilly, a spokeswoman for the school district, said “seeking this pricing in no way obligates the School Department to have the transportation vendor provide the monitors, but provides us factual information regarding costs.” She noted that the RFP is meant to seek bids on buses and drivers.

O’Reilly pointed to a transportation study that found Providence pays more per bus than similar-sized communities as part of the reason the city has opened up the bidding process for busing services.

“We are in tight fiscal times, and the school board and Superintendent Susan Lusi agree that Providence Schools needs to look closely at all potential opportunities to direct the maximum amount of funding to teaching and learning and direct services for students,” she said.

In addition to union members, at least six members of the City Council – including Council President Luis Aponte and Majority Leader Kevin Jackson – attended the meeting to show support for the union workers. Aponte and Jackson told they would not support an attempt to privatize the monitoring services.

Providence officials estimate that the city’s budget gap for the fiscal year that begins July 1 could be between $10 million and $24 million, meaning the city will need either raise revenues or cut expenses in order to have a balanced budget.

New Mayor Jorge Elorza has said he does not want to raise taxes in his first budget. Elorza has also expressed support for seeking “additional information regarding the cost of bus monitors,” but he has not said whether he will move for privatizing services.

School Board President Nick Hemond said he understands that all city departments are facing financial challenges, but said he doesn’t want to “balance our problems by creating other problems.”

“You can’t put a price on safety and you can’t put a price on our children,” he said.