Sparks fly over Unionville bus outsourcing study

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Parents ask board to look carefully before firing district drivers, board members clash over study proposal

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com

The Unionville Chadds Ford Board of Education awarded a $15,160 contract to study the district's transportation system.

EAST MARLBOROUGH — Tension is already rising as the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District begins its first steps toward considering outsourcing its fleet of buses.

While a number of parents made impassioned pleas to the board to keep the bus system in house at Monday night’s school board meeting, drivers were handing out copies of a letter they ran in a local newspaper to parents and school directors sparred over the hiring of a consultant, which the board ultimately opted to do.

The board voted 7-2 to award Transportation Advisory Services of Walworth, NY a $15,170 contract.

Paul Price, who has been the most vocal board member about outsourcing not just busing, but janitorial and food services, expressed displeasure at the Request for Proposal the district sent out, arguing it primarily focused on looking at the current transportation system and finding efficiencies, rather than looking at the cost differential of outsourcing. Price than questioned the motivation of the administration and hinted he felt that the RFP was intended to prevent a hard look at outsourcing.

Price called it “outrageous” but was cautioned by fellow director Keith Knauss not to question the intention of the administration, and noted that revisions and additions were made to the RPF covering outsourcing.

“It’s a sorry statement from one of our board members,” Knauss said.

Holly Manzone, on the other side of the spectrum, said she objected to the district spending more than $15,000 for a study to consider outsourcing. She questioned the economics — noting that any outside contractor would need to make a profit and that the savings of outsourcing would not be worth the loss of control. And just because Unionville is the last remaining school district in the county not to outsource busing, she made it clear that she doesn’t see that as being a good enough reason to do it.

“It’s never been my goal to be like every other district in Chester County,” Manzone said.

A number of parents in attendance at the meeting echoed those statements, expressing concerns about numerous instances of children being mistreated, left in the wrong place and even bullied on buses run by outside contractors in other local school districts.

Pat Claffy of Pocopson spoke for a number of parents who spoke during the meeting, asking the board to very carefully weigh the decision to outsource — and suggested that such a course of action should be one of “the last places” the baord should look for savings.

Board member Jeff Leiser said he felt that the board had a fiduciary responsibility to look at all options, whether it be keeping the current set up, making changes to make it run more efficiently or to outsource the operation. He said it was his hope that the study would show the current operation was highly efficient, but that the board, especially in these difficult times, needed to look every for options to reduce spending.

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