Residents are still looking for a lot of answers regarding the future of the Transportation Department, but they're going to have to wait until next Wednesday to get them.
The school administration's tentative recommendation, however, is to possibly privatize transportation services.
The Concord Public Schools and Concord Carlisle Regional School Committee met last night to hear the results of a transportation assessment conducted by a consultant hired to look at the options facing the Transportation Department given the impact of the CCHS building project. The new Concord Carlisle Regional High School will utilize the space that is currently occupied but the Transportation Department, forcing the bus yard and maintenance building off the CCHS campus.
"That has led us to need to look at all the options," said School Committee Chairman Peter Fischelis.
Superintendent Diana Rigby said the combination of the building project and budget constraints is what prompted the look into changes to the Transportation Department.
"We have the factor of no transportation facilities as well as some serious budget challenges," Rigby said. "I think it's really important that we research what is the most cost effect way we can provide our transportation services."
Deputy Superintendent for Finance and Operations John Flaherty said the overall cost of keeping the Transportation Department in house over fiscal year '13 would be $2,185,120.
Following approval of the CCHS building project, requests for bids from private transportation services were issued, Flaherty said. Two bids were returned, the lower of which came from First Student at $1,811,829 — a potential savings of $373,291. While the school district would retain ownership of the 36-bus fleet — and handful of buses would be housed at each of the school buildings with the exception of Thoreau — the bid figure from First Student includes three additional buses in the first year of what would be a three-year contract.
"Based on those elements, it's our recommendation that the School Committee consider outsourcing," Flaherty said.
The Transportation Department currently employs 36 drivers, three mechanics, and three administrators. Flaherty said if services are outsourced, "[The] contractor has indicated an interest in hiring 100 percent of our staff, our bus drivers … They're going to need as many bus drivers to do it as we do."
Flaherty added that he was concerned with two current positions, but was confident the majority of CCRSD bus drivers would be offered positions if the School Committee decides to go with the outside company.
The presentation was followed by a number of comments from residents, district parents, and employees of the Transportation Department.
One of the primary concerns expressed was that the general understanding of the purpose of last night's meeting was to present different options for the Transportation Department, rather than presenting one single option.
Addressing the possibility of relocating the department, Rigby said some consideration was given to the town-owned maintenance facility on Keyes Road.
"We went to the town first, that was our first conversation with [Town Manager] Chris Whelan," the superintendent said. "We inquired whether or not that would be an option and it didn't seem like that would work."
Fischelis requested Flaherty go into greater detail on the other options the administration did look at and why they were ruled out during next week's public forum.
Other concerns expressed last night included the perceived lack of transparency of the transportation evaluation process; the longterm savings, if any, given the possible condition of the fleet at the end of the three-year contract; and the impact such a change would have on the bus drivers, many of whom have served the school district for up to 30 years and are very close with the families they serve.
"To think about them being stripped of their benefits is embarrassing to me," said one parent of a Thoreau School student.
One individual summed up much of the opposing sentiment saying of the meeting, "I feel duped by the process.
"What I hear is that 'We're here to sell you on this as the only option we have.'"
The public forum will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 7 p.m., at the Alcott School.
The final vote on the future of the Transportation Department will be taken at the next regular School Committee meeting after the forum.