Consultant: Unionville should put bus service out for private bids

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Still, the fiscal issues with the bus system seem to center, according to the report, on the pay and benefits of employees that earn full-time benefits without working full-time hours. The current threshold for such benefits, including pensions, is 25 hours a week for 10 months a year, a cost that a private bus company would not have to pay. One complication is that some of the transportation department employees also work in food service — and outsourcing busing could lead to additional costs in food service. The report suggested a number of options for the district, including outsourcing just the out-of-district busing, which could be combined by neighboring districts to offer a cost savings.

For their part, the bus drivers appeared willing to work with the district to reduce employee costs, one driver, John Austin, even saying he wished they could opt out of their Public School Employees Retirement System pension plan, if it meant keeping the bus operation in-house.

Another driver, Bob Cover, asked whether the district had spoken with neighboring districts about their experiences and whether they would outsourcing busing if they had it to do over again.

Hellrung said he appreciated the sentiment, but suggested that health insurance costs were a bigger part of the benefit expense picture — and an area that drivers might be able to work with the district.

Cover also asked whether the outsourcing decision would be taken strictly on a fiscal basis. Finance chair Keith Knauss said definitively “no,” meaning that the non-financial benefits of keeping busing in-house would be factored into the decision. Cover also asked that the board take the decision in a deliberate manner, noting that once made “it’s almost mission impossible to get back to where you were” because of the large cost of reconstituting a new bus fleet.

Board member Eileen Bushelow said she hoped that the employees of the transportation department would be given the opportunity to, in effect, bid for the service by working with the district to cut overall costs to keep them in line what could be provided by a private company. Drivers pointed out that they are paying more of their personal insurance and had taken a wage freeze.

Bushelow also suggested that the district explain the process to parents, give them a sense of what to expect if outsourcing is the final result of process.

“That’s premature,” Price said. “We haven’t even put it out to bid, yet.”

Parents were invited to comment on the district’s Web site, however, where the entire report can also be read.

Knauss said he thought it was important to outline the process for district transportation employees, so they know what to expect.

“It’s a tough situation all around,” Trigg said. “It’s tough to look at you guys. I’ve had a kid on your buses since 1992 and still do. But you can see what a tough budget situation we’re in.”

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