If any of the Concord-Carlisle bus drivers ever wondered how the community felt about them, they got their answer last night.
The auditorium at Alcott School was filled with parents, district employees, and members of the community concerned about the future of the CCRSD Transportation Department. People engaged in hours of conversation with the Concord Public Schools and Concord Carlisle Regional School Committee and district administration regarding potential privatization of transportation services.
Deputy Superintendent for Finance and Operations John Flaherty delivered the findings of the transportation report, which indicate the cost of utilizing a private contractor would save the district approximately $373,000. Based on those figures, Flaherty recommended the School Committee consider privatization at a School Committee meeting last week. No official vote has been taken in regard to transportation services yet.
Last night, the public responded to that recommendation with comments and questions ranging from legal rationale to emotional pleas. Among the stories from grateful parents expressing appreciation for the drivers, one of the biggest questions last night was whether Massachusetts General Law 30B, the Uniform Procurement Act, was violated in the bidding process that resulted in James Flahive being hired as a transportation consultant.
Flaherty disagreed with several speakers who raised the idea that if the bidding process was flawed, everything that resulted from it, including the recommendation to use an outside agency, would inherently be flawed as well. The deputy superintendent said the bidding process was above board, but did acknowledge accidental omission of legally prescribed language in the contract documents.
One resident spoke about citizens petitioning for an injunction of a transportation contract until a more thorough cost analysis and vetting process can be done. One of the big financial questions still looming is how much Concordians would end up paying if the town saw a spike in unemployment filings due to the turnover. Flaherty said First Student, the lowest bidder with whom CCRSD would likely contract should the School Committee vote to privatize, is willing to interview 100 percent of the district's drivers for jobs under the new management. That does not however, mean they will all necessarily be hired, nor does it preclude drivers from turning down positions that offer lower wages or lesser benefits than they are receiving now.
Additional issues brought up last night include potential use of commercial property to replace the maintenance garage; accident reports logged by First Student; student safety and comfort; and overall transparency of the transportation evaluation and consultation process.
The next meeting of the joint School Committee is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 28 at 6:30 p.m. in the CCHS Library.
Did you attend last night's public forum? What do you think is the most pressing aspect of the transportation debate? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.