Bids rejected at special Tuesday morning meeting, district looks to save $87K annually
By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
EAST MARLBOROUGH — It was quick, to the point and ended with a loud round of applause.
Tuesday morning’s special Board of Education meeting ended discussions of outsourcing the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District’s buses, as the board voted 7-0 to reject all of the bids and keep the transportation system in-house.
In the end, the fact that it came down to simple math that saved board members from weighing the “value added” factor of keeping busing in-house. After district officials and members of the transportation department identified about $339,000 in yearly savings that could be found in the busing operation, keeping the operation district owned represented a savings of $87,000 a year over a five-year projection, less than the lowest bid, which came from First Student Transportation Services. In fact, First Student was the only bidder of the five who offered bid to come in under the district’s existing numbers.
“Looking at just the numbers, we’re sightly less expensive keeping in house,” said Keith Knauss, the board’s Finance Committee chair. “And that’s not considering the intangibles.”
“The intangibles are considerable,” board president Timotha Trigg said.
Still, there were a few questions about the numbers. Board member Jeff Leiser asked about how pension obligations under the Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS) and other employee costs had been handled in the five-year projection.
Robert Cochran, the district’s Director of Business and Operations, said, if anything, the numbers used are likely more conservative than reality, noting that they reflect Gov. Tom Corbett’s plan to cut payroll tax reimbursements was built into the numbers, although legislation restoring those funds had been passed by the state house last week.
Currently, under state law passed in 2010, PSERS contribution rates can only increase by three percentage points a year, although the system continues to be underfunded — which led to projections that contributions could increase as much as five-fold in the coming years, prior to the passage of the rate cap.
“The PSERS problem is so big that I can’t see the state allowing it to bankrupt every district in the state,” member Holly Manzone said.
Board members allowed that if PSERS or health benefits do rapidly increase in cost, the board may have to revisit this decision in the coming years, but for now, the numbers add up.
“We need to go on what we know today,” Knauss said.
Superintendent of Schools Sharon Parker praised the workers in the transportation staff for being willing to offer suggestions to cut costs — and then live with those changes.
“There are considerable changes in the way we’re doing business,” she said, calling the planned operational cuts a “cultural shift” in the operations of the transportation department.
Gail Wolfel, the district’s Director of Transportation, said the changes would not always be easy, but shouldn’t be evident to parents or students.
“It will be a challenge in the coming years,” she said. “But we will be able to succeed in giving the same level of service we’ve been giving the community.”
The voted 7-0, with Paul Price and Eileen Bushelow not present at the meeting. The final vote prompted a loud round of applause from the audience, board members and administrators, ending nearly nine months of debate about the fate of some 84 transportation department employees.