After privatization debate,
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.