School Bus Outsourcing Delayed; User Fees Discussed
Both committees met to discuss the transportation issues Tuesday night.
With public emotions running high, Deputy Superintendent of Finance and Operations for Concord Public Schools John Flaherty and Superintendent of Schools Diana Rigby were tasked with answering many of the questions surrounding the bus transportation issue Tuesday night. In the end, a decision was made to delay the idea of outsourcing.
Speaking to the school committees of Concord Public Schools and the Concord-Carlisle Regional School District, Flaherty and Rigby went into detail on several issues that have the community buzzing, including the possibility of user fees, leasing a bus repair facility and utilizing a private contractor for bus services.
“We need to make a decision now. Outsourcing is a viable option,” said Rigby, who shared that she had spoken with other superintendents who outsource bus service and found a favorable consensus.
Rigby said that she has also spoken with taxpayers and they are behind the school building project, but they are leery of continuously increasing the tax burden to achieve such projects. Rigby advocated for ways to save money while also upholding a certain level of quality.
“Our core services are teaching and learning,” she said. “I encourage us to look at different ways to do business and make sure that things don’t encroach on those core services.”
Dozens of residents from both communities were in attendance for Tuesday’s meeting and a few stood by the belief that there must be a way other than outsourcing. Lisa Bergman, in particular, shared that she garnered over 430 signatures for a petition to stop outsourcing.
“Don’t rush into an ill-conceived outsourcing program,” she read to the committees. “None of us want to spend extra money, but we didn’t know that we were trading transportation when we were looking at building a new high school.”
Another resident, Jennifer Longmyer, recalled a time when her son was late arriving home one day. She said she called her son’s bus driver and the driver picked up right away, explaining that there had been a delay in getting the buses out of the school that afternoon. She knew immediately, she said, that her son was alright.
“The bus driver is the first person a student sees in the morning and the last person they see in the afternoon. That relationship is important,” Longmyer said, stressing that a third-party service would not provide that level of familiarity.
Peter Fischelis, chair of the Concord-Carlisle School Committee, said that there was an “immediate issue with the budget that we have to solve” and expressed his desire to go back to the Financial Committee to see if there are other financial options that can be looked at.
Ultimately, the two committees voted to delay any bus outsourcing plans for a year. They also agreed that while the Transportation Department will remain in tact, they will have to find a facility that can handle bus repair work for their current fleet of buses as new high school construction moves into their current physical territory.
The meeting also addressed the issue of charging bus user fees as a means to recoup money, fees that could be between $300 and $400 per student if committee members chose to go that route, according to Flaherty. CC Regional School District member Chad Koski suggested that a fee might discourage parents from utilizing a bus service anyway, because they would decide it’s cheaper to drive their kids to school.
Concord Public Schools member Jerry Wedge said that he finds user fees “inherently unfair” because they put much of the cost burden on the shoulders of a small minority. Concord School Committee Vice-Chair Pamela Gannon, meanwhile, related her opposition to fees since they “charge our youngest families,” essentially punishing them.
Louis Salemy of the Carlisle School system did not specifically offer a stance on user fees, but did say that whatever decisions are made, the bus system they use has to be safe, cost effective and deliver kids on time. He said that school employee layoffs should be the last thing to take place, acknowledging that this was a difficult process for all involved.
“You have to understand that the school administration is always looking out for the best interest of the students, while also operating under a certain budget,” he said.
Was the right decision made? Do you favor the outsourcing option? Tell us in the comment section below.