Af­ter pri­va­ti­za­tion de­bate,

The Day - - REGION - By MARTHA SHANA­HAN Day Staff Writer m.shana­han@the­

bus sys­tem in Montville short-staffed but rolling along.

Montville — The school year in Montville has started, with the same in-house bus­ing sys­tem that the town has al­ways re­lied on.

A year af­ter a “hor­rific” first week of bus­ing in 2016, and months af­ter many of Montville’s driv­ers threat­ened to quit over a pro­posal to pri­va­tize the bus sys­tem, things seemed to have smoothed over by the first day of school Wed­nes­day.

About 3:30 p.m. Wed­nes­day, buses were on their way to drop-off lo­ca­tions with most of the district’s stu­dents, Su­per­in­ten­dent Brian Levesque said. They were run­ning a lit­tle late, he said, but a statewide driver short­age and last year’s school board scuf­fle over the pri­va­ti­za­tion is­sue didn’t lead to any ma­jor is­sues.

The de­bate over whether to sell Montville’s buses and turn con­trol of the sys­tem over to Illi­nois-based Durham School Ser­vices did cause some driv­ers to leave, Levesque said. The school board voted 4-3 in May against the pro­posal, af­ter driv­ers wor­ried they would lose their union-ne­go­ti­ated salaries and ben­e­fits and threat­ened to leave if the pri­vate con­tract were ap­proved.

Sev­eral per­son­nel is­sues in Montville’s school bus sys­tem last year led to the fir­ing of two man­agers of the bus garage and the hir­ing of a tem­po­rary con­trac­tor to over­see the sys­tem. Con­fu­sion over sched­ul­ing and pickup or drop-off lo­ca­tions in the first weeks of the 2016 school year were symp­toms of mis­man­age­ment, which driv­ers op­posed to the pri­va­ti­za­tion move said the district should iron out in­stead of pay­ing a com­pany to do it.

The per­ma­nent manager hired to over­see the bus garage last year, re­tired Con­necti­cut state Trooper John Pat­ter­son, re­ferred ques­tions to the su­per­in­ten­dent’s of­fice Tuesday.

Levesque said while the bus garage was run­ning more smoothly this year af­ter he and Pat­ter­son de­vel­oped new bus routes, he stands by his as­sess­ment that hir­ing a pri­vate con­trac­tor would save the district money and lead to a newer and safer bus fleet.

“I think a lot of the rea­sons that we did it last spring will still ex­ist,” he said. “We have an ag­ing fleet, and we need to find a way to re­place that fleet with the lim­ited funds that we have.”

Six of the district’s buses are more than two decades old. The last new buses the district bought were paid for with a grant from the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency. The school board has in­cluded re­quests for money for buses in its cap­i­tal bud­get pro­pos­als for the past sev­eral years but con­sis­tently has been turned down.

Levesque said he could not pre­dict whether an­other pro­posal to hire a pri­vate con­trac­tor would come be­fore the school board this year.

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