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School District Looking Into Privatized Busing Services

With the proposed new Concord-Carlisle Regional High School may come a new transportation service for district students.

The Concord Public Schools and Concord-Carlisle Regional School District are looking into the possibility utilizing privatized busing services.

According to John Flaherty, Deputy Superintendent for Finance and Operations, the district has retained the services of a consultant charged with looking into the possibility of outsourcing busing services. Requests for bids, Flaherty said, will be prepared and issued pending approval of the proposed CCHS building project.

According to the plans for the , the land that currently makes up the district's Transportation Department will be used for part of the new facility. Relocation of the Transportation Department is estimated to cost between $1-$2 million. That cost is not included the $92.5 million price tag on the proposed high school project.

Finding a home for the department is another issue, according to Flaherty.

"We've looked at the possibility but we haven't found anything within Concord," he said.

Though open to the possibility of relocating the Transportation Department, Flaherty said the district is no longer actively looking for a potential site.

"We've asked the drivers, the Transportation employees, if they have suggestions, to please let us know what they are," Flaherty said.

One bus driver, speaking along side coworkers under the condition of anonymity, said a suggestion to house the buses in front of the high school was shot down.

If privatization becomes a reality, the fate of the approximately 35 employees of the Transportation Department is uncertain.

Flaherty said, "It may be a bit premature to comment on just what the final outcome would be," should the transportation services be outsourced. Flaherty did say in other districts that have changed services, bus drivers will often apply for positions with that district's new transportation service provider.

"That option would be there," he said.

To the employees of the department though, the outcome seems more cut-and-dried.

"It would be a major loss to a bunch of us," said one driver, who is only a few years away from retirement. Loss of health insurance is a big concern for the bus drivers.

Typically working 10 months a year, 25 hours per week, bus drivers have to accumulate 30 years in order to retire with benefits, according to the bus driver.

The driver said people in the department have developed a strong rapport with students and families, and feared putting new people behind the wheels of the buses could lead to disruptions or mistakes along the routes, citing the earlier this year after a switch in transportation management there.

"We know all the kids, we have a good reputation in town. They don't know what they'd be getting," the bus driver said.

In addition to the Concord Public and Concord-Carlisle schools, the Transportation Department provides busing for the , , Recreation Department outings, and is on call for use in emergency evacuations. The department also has three in-house mechanics who service all buses and School District vehicles. 

"They say it'll save a lot of money, but I doubt it," another driver said of the potential change.

Flaherty said he did not know how much the district could possibly save by going with a private company. Those estimates, he said, would only be available after the request for bids is issued.

"We will need to see what private sectors will charge to provide the services, so that will come in time," he said.

If the CCHS project receives , Flaherty said "there would be site work that would impact the site beginning next spring."

What that would mean for operations at that time, Flaherty didn't know, saying. "We'd have to look carefully at how it all phases out."

There is a public hearing to discuss the articles of the November Special Town Meeting, including the CCHS proposal, on Thursday, Oct. 27, 7:30 p.m. at the Town House.

Michelle October 19, 2011 at 05:03 PM
I find it completely unfair and almost cruel to "save" money by outsourcing the transportation. Many of these drivers have been here since I was in school, and now they drive my children. There are ways to save monet within the project that do not have to effect the bus drivers. Find somewhere else in the plans to scale back; this town needs to do right by these employees and trusted workers!!!
Michelle E. October 19, 2011 at 05:31 PM
Michelle, I think you are jumping to conclusions that the bus drivers aren't going to be taken care of when no decision has been made on the future of transportation services in the district. There could be minimal change - everything stays the same and the buses just run from a different depot. There could be an intermediary that takes over some part of the process (maintenance, for example) but everything else remains the same. There could be a scenario where all the drivers stay on, but the bus fleet is leased instead of owned. There are lots of possibilities and that's why the district hired a consultant to look at the big picture. There may be ways to create efficiencies in our transportation services, there may not be. Evaluating this doesn't mean everyone is being fired.
Harry October 19, 2011 at 06:08 PM
Michelle E....if the transportation dept igoes to a private company, the drivers can go apply to work there but on paper they will have to be "fired" by the town. The town's unemployment tax to the state will automatically go up because of these firings. The employees fired will be eligible for unemployment. Some may go to work for the new company but some may not. The loss of town and State benefits may cause the drivers to look elsewhere.
Michael J Benn October 19, 2011 at 06:24 PM
"Requests for bids, Flaherty said, will be prepared and issued pending approval of the proposed CCHS building project." This tells me that the decision to outsource has been made (pending the forgone conclusion of approval of the proposed CCHS building project). It may, or may not be in the best interest of the taxpayers/students/parents and is worth looking into, but this is too big of a decision to be made behind closed doors. I wonder if we can hire a consultant to explore the possibility of outsourcing the administration and teaching staff. If so, I would hope it would be a transparent process.
Rose-Ann West October 19, 2011 at 06:24 PM
If the town outsources the bus services for the 2012-2013 school year the drivers who currently work for the Concord School system will no longer be working for the Town of Concord. To me, that sounds like they will be fired. Maybe the phrase is "let go". Yes, it is possible that some of the drivers could be hired by the new company, but it will be at a considerable loss of benefits.
Bill Bean October 19, 2011 at 11:34 PM
There is plenty of space at the High School for the Transportation Department. If the plans are for the new school to be on the location of the Transportation Deparment then that leaves other space available to put it. The current Student parking lot could be used for Transportation Department to relocate. The foot print of the current High School should be made into a parking area. The cost to move transportation is much reduced and it becomes a win win for the community and all its agencies that rely on transportation department. This department has worked well for the town for over 55 years and if it is not broken and is working well then why I are we thinking about doing away with it. Concord is unique we own the transportation department lets not blow it and loose it.
Michelle October 20, 2011 at 11:43 AM
It does seem that way doesn't it? Not sure why they would be looking for bids otherwise; not to menton they are, "no longer activiely looking for a potential site."
Michelle October 20, 2011 at 11:45 AM
Exactly!!! Why are we acting as if these loyal employees are disposable?
Michelle October 20, 2011 at 11:46 AM
Excellent points!!! Let's hope enough people are willing to speak to this issue
jackie October 20, 2011 at 03:17 PM
It seems like parents need a lot more info. There are a lot of questions: How will this affect our children? How much control over the transportation dept/bus services will the administration have if the bus service is privatized? How far may students have to walk to their bus stops? Will bus stops be dropped/consolidated? ride times lengthened? overcrowded buses? elimination of late buses for CMS and CCHS? limitations on what students may carry on the buses. ie musical instruments, sports equipment? (see related story http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-20122787-504083.html ) I agree ...there needs to be transparency
Peter Fischelis October 20, 2011 at 08:45 PM
Folks, This is not a conspiracy and we are not trying to slide this in under the radar. Here are the facts pure and simple. Up until we went through the feasibility study of the HS with the state, this spring and summer, we really did not have any idea of what kind of project that state would support. It literally wasn't until that time that the state and the building committee agreed that we should build new and the new location was set to be behind the existing school. The first new building option had the new building located in the lower gym parking lot area. Once it was determined this summer that the best location to build would be behind the existing school that meant we needed to come up with plans on how to handle the bus situation. We felt the best way to approach this was to hire a consultant to present us with OPTIONs, including outsourcing AND keeping the busing in house as well as any hybrid solutions that are possible. They only decision that we have made is that at least in the short term we will need to outsource the physical maintenance of the buses. Everything else is on the table. John Flaherty our assistant Superintendent did say that bids will be sent out to get the costs for Outsourcing. Perhaps he should have said that in order to fully evaluate all the options we fully expect to send out bids for outsourcing the busing. How else can we do a real evaluation without knowing what the costs are of the different options?
Michael J Benn October 20, 2011 at 08:54 PM
Thank you Peter. When will the consultant present their recommendations? Also, does this mean that there is a possibility that the current transportation dept. will provide service to the Rec. Dept. this summer? Thanks again! MJB
Peter Fischelis October 20, 2011 at 09:50 PM
And yes folks, the School Committee realizes that outsourcing would impact the bus drivers which is why we let them know that we would be considering this as an option. The impact on employees needs to be part of the decision making process. At this point we have no idea what will make the most sense. It needs to be understood that just because we have to move the buses does not mean that we are forced to outsource the operation. We can and will continue to handle everything but the maintenance if we decide it makes the most sense to do so.
Michelle October 20, 2011 at 10:13 PM
I think the biggest issue here is that up until very recently, this was not exactly made "known" to the general public. Conspiracy theory or not; everything should have been laid out in detail along with all the "benefits" of this project. We, as voters and taxpayers, should be made aware of the downsides at the same time we are presented with all the upsides. To some, this may not seem a big deal, but to those thirty five or so employees and their families; it's huge! This project has been in the works for a very long time, and I just cannot fathom how this issue was not solved back in the planning stages. There is no reason to change something that has worked so well for so long. Where there is a will, there is a way... Try hard enough, and a permanent location could surely be found!
Bill B October 21, 2011 at 12:23 AM
There is no way the Transportation Department is going survive with out its own maintenance department just like our DPW would not survive without its maintenance Department. Transportation is to large to rely on outsourcing companies to fix its vehicles. I am sure the turn around time on repairs is hours maybe a day an outsource maintenance could be as long as two to three weeks. Trucking companies fix there own for that reason. Your own mechanics know the vehicles better than an outsider. You move that facility on the property over to the student parking lot area you could almost immediately start moving all the building down there. The students can do temporally with out parking and ride the buses. Peter I am afraid that your committee is spending to much effort on outsourcing than you are about relocating the entire transportation department, You should have a search committee in place working just on relocation of the entire facility. What your proposing is like cutting a dogs leg off and say the dog will function 100% like it always has with only three legs. I have seen our buses brake down and the mechanics arrive immediately and bring the driver another bus or fix the problem and the bus moves on. Your proposal with no mechanics my child may have to wait hours before a replacement bus comes and from where?. I prefer our current operation. Your maintenance plan has two many ifs, no substance and our current operation has a good track record and it works.
Ken Deutsch October 21, 2011 at 01:09 AM
One more reason to vote against the High School. I was leaning towards a yes vote, but now that it is clear that we are finding out the hidden costs and/or other things we will need to give up I am now a strong no. I have had my share of complaints with Concord school bus drivers (like the beginning of last year when kids were getting to school 1/2 hour late), but we had people accountable to turn to and the issues were resolved. The argument that a decision to eliminate the bus maintenance facility is not a decision to privatize is illogical as it would be the only financially sound alternative. In a town as pro-worker as Concord, it is hard to imagine that the High School plan can still pass as it clearly contains a move towards privatization of municipal employees.
Michelle October 21, 2011 at 09:58 AM
Agree one hundred percent!!! Don't change something that works; find a way to make it sontinue to work!!
Michelle October 21, 2011 at 10:10 AM
Just a thought....Many moons ago the bus and maintenance was done over at the town barns. The transportation department has not always been at the high school. Couldn't it all temporarily be moved back to the barns so the buses could still be serviced by the current mechanics? While I realize this is not ideal; it could be a temporary solution that allows all to remain employees. The buses could be parked at different schools if needed during the construction of the high school.
Peter Fischelis October 21, 2011 at 01:28 PM
I don't pretend to be an expert on transportation Departments (which is why we authorized the hiring of a consultant) but I'm not sure I would agree with the comment that the transportation department cannot survive without in-house maintenance. If a bus breaks down during a route we send another bus over to pick up the kids. Whether you have an in-house maintenance person drive over to see if they can fix it or whether you end up having to tow the bus to a garage to get it fixed doesn't really matter. There is going to be disruption either way and we have plans to deal with it. If a bus is out of service for days due to lengthy repairs, I think you could come up with arguments on both sides about which scenario would lead to a quicker resolution. What I do know is what I don't know. The folks on here who are 100% sure that to continue doing things the way we have done things forever is the right answer, I don't know how you can be so sure without having all the information. It may be the right answer but I don't feel qualified to make that call until I have the right information. I believe every organization should continually look at all aspects of their operations and see what can be done to improve things. It doesn't mean you change things just to change them but don't you want the SC and the School Administration to continually look at the operations to insure whether we are delivering services in the best way possible?
Robert October 21, 2011 at 03:28 PM
How much is the consultant be being paid ?
Michelle October 21, 2011 at 03:34 PM
I don't think anyone here is trying to claim they are one hundred percent sure that the way things are done now is the perfect way. However, it has worked quite well for MANY years without change. It was changed last year by hiring a head of the transportation department from outside the district. We all saw, felt, and know how long and how well that worked. It appears awfully coincidental to have this "issue" explored now; when there is a problem with a location because of possible upcoming construction! It is rather insulting to insinuate we all are not making this connection and to try to argue about "delivering the best services possible." I think these issues need to be discussed out in the open, and because of the fact they were not brought to the public's attention until very recently; I and many others are not feeling very supportive!
Michelle October 21, 2011 at 03:40 PM
Great question???
Peter Fischelis October 21, 2011 at 07:47 PM
The Consultants fee is $6,500. I'm not sure when the findings will be ready but I will find out. Yes, the transportation system has worked quite well for many years and yes, there was a big glitch last year when we hired a replacement for Manly. We certainly made a mistake there but we did recognize it fairly quickly and took action to correct it. In any case our plan will be to review the options available to us and make the best decision possible. The consultants findings will be presented to the School Committee at one of our public meetings so I encourage anyone who wants to, to come and listen and comment.
Michelle October 21, 2011 at 08:03 PM
Please do let us know the timeline as I do believe it may very well affect people's votes. Is it possible that there may be some sort of an idea by November 7th?
Beth Sherman October 24, 2011 at 08:20 PM
I haven;t seen any comment on what will happen to the maintenance garage and the fairly new drivers building. Will they be demolished? Worked into the new HS somehow? It does not seem to make sense. Many Concordians understand the value of our bus drivers, as professionals and as human beings. Certain members of this adminisration do not.
Bill B October 25, 2011 at 02:23 AM
It just sickens me the more I hear of the dismantling of our Transportation Department to make way for the new High School. The amount of money that is being wasted by our administration and school committee with idea that they are saving money by privatizing our transportation system. We had a taste of outside management last year and that did not work. This privatizing had better work or there will openings in the administration as well as the school committee. Learn by Framingham's mistake this year and do no let it be Concord's mistake. I can not see this as a good thing for our children and community. I just hope that enough of our school community will speak up against the out sourcing our Transportation Department. When you call transportation they are always willing to help you out and solve your problem. The service we get is the same as we get from all our town agencies and departments, that is why we choose to live in Concord.
David October 25, 2011 at 10:59 PM
Three time over the past 20 years, the school department looked at differant forms of providing transportation. First in the late 90's, whena Transportation Manager retired, The school hired a former owner of a contract bus service. He ran the department like a contract service. He bought cheap buses, he lengthened routes. He was gone in a year. A few years later, the school went out to bid to have a company come in and run the buses. No company bid on it becouse they could not provide the same service for the same price it costs for the town to do it. The late try was last year. The School hied a former contractor again. He changed all the numbers on the buses, made the routes longer and the first two weeks of school was a mess. He quit and left the drivers to clean it up. They did. Two were apointed manager and assistant and working together, the drivers along with the new managment fixed the routes. They did it becouse they work for you and your kids not some big company. Acton had contractors until a few years ago. Now they own and operate their own fleet. Framingham changed to a contractor last school year. Now they are looking at buying a new fleet and running the buses. There is plent of room at CCHS to park buses. The office building is a modular building. Put air in the tires and move it. The maintenance garage is an assembled steel building. You can take it apart or move it assembles to another location, Lets not jump into something it is going to cost more to fix.
Paul A. November 03, 2011 at 06:57 PM
Where to begin, 3 years ago it was discussed to outsource the school maintenance department " due to budget reasons" thankfully that did not happen. Yes the school district has and will continue to threaten any department that questions what they want. Right now the whole adminastration has tunnel vision and believes they are getting a new High school, not with my vote or my money. Funny how Peter said " we are not trying to hide anything" what I think he meant was I was hoping you would find out. Why else would John Flaherty revisit the transportation dept and basically issue a gag order on the bus drivers. Stating parents are afraid of the drivers state of mindand if it's safe for the children. This year alone the Public school budget is in danger, Ripley has been notified of potential layoff possibly coming in December, custodians no longer due building checks, monies are being borrowed from one account to cover other accounts, the old rob Peter to pay Paul trick is going on in the school system. Bottom line I dont trust any of them. Maybe the better solution would be to outsource the school committee and adminastration and let those who really work for a living to keep earning it. At the rate things are going and with the way I see it being run the sign at the new High School will say either bankrupt of foreclosed.
Peter Fischelis January 20, 2012 at 01:52 PM
Some folks on here asked that they be kept informed as to how and when this process would take place. Next Tuesday the 24th, at 6:30pm in the CCHS Library, the School administration will present the findings of the transportation evaluation to the School Committee. This is a public meeting and anyone is welcome to attend. It will be recorded and shown on CCTV as well. There will be an opportunity for citizen comments after the report is given. The School Committee listens to citizens comments but does not respond. The School Committee has also decided to hold a special public forum on this issue. It will take place on Wednesday night, February 1st, 7:00pm at the Alcott School. The transportation report will be presented again and then the public will have the opportunity to weigh-in and ask questions. This will be an interactive event where the school administration and the School Committee will respond to questions. After these meetings occur the School Committee members will each decide on the coarse of action they believe to be the most appropriate and at our next scheduled School Committee meeting we will have a vote to determine what coarse of action we are going to take.
Paul A. January 21, 2012 at 01:25 PM
Peter, if I may ask and hopefully get a truthful answer, haven't the transportation department been notified that there services will not be needed after June 30 2012 as Student first has been awarded the new contract for appox 3.1 million dollars? My other questions are, 1. How long is the contract with the outside contractor? 2. how much will this change next years adopted budget, I hope it would drop since this is a cost savings measure. Everyone can't make the forum so this would be a great chance to air some of the bigger aspects of it out so we as taxpayers can decide how we should proceed in the future. Thank you

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