Davis ques­tions need for so many buses

Over $90,000 bud­geted for backup ve­hi­cles

The Enterprise - - Front Page - By JACQUI ATKIELSKI jatkiel­ski@somd­news.com

St. Mary’s school board mem­ber Jim Davis ap­peared to be adamant Wed­nes­day that the county doesn’t need to con­tract as many as 64 spare buses to be used in case of emer­gency or for field trips. About $90,510 of the $15 million bud­geted for trans­porta­tion is dis­trib­uted as stipends and in­spec­tion fees for the backup buses.

Three buses have been pulled by their con­trac­tors and re­placed with two since Au­gust, when the 65 buses were ap­proved for use by the school board, Jeff Thomp- son, pub­lic schools’ di­rec­tor of trans­porta­tion, said at Wed­nes­day’s school board meet­ing.

“Up to 30 buses at a time in a sin­gle day can cover field trips,” Thomp­son said, adding that up to 210 buses are on the road dur­ing the school day.

Davis said “there is no ques­tion about need­ing ad­di­tional buses,” but ques­tioned if there needed to be more than 60 backup buses.

He said the cost of hav­ing that many spare buses would be passed on from the con­trac­tors to the school sys­tem, and asked Thomp­son if there was data in- di­cat­ing the need for that many spare buses.

Thomp­son said he didn’t have that in­for­ma­tion on hand, but could pro­vide it to the board mem­ber. “In the past, we’ve had days where we’ve had to use a large num­ber of our spare buses,” he said.

With 40 con­trac­tors work­ing with the school sys­tem, “many of them would like to have their own spare bus, be­cause oth­er­wise they have to got to another con­trac­tor,” he said.

Davis asked Thomp­son if there “would be any way they could cross-pol­li­nate” and share buses in­stead.

Thomp­son said there are times when con­trac­tors share buses, but it comes with ad­di­tional fees to be paid by the driver.

“Each of them are run­ning their own in­de­pen­dent busi­ness,” he said.

Of the now 64 buses, the school board bud­gets $3,000 a year for 25 reg­u­lar buses and three buses with wheel­chair lifts, as well as another $105 each for in­spec­tion fees, Thomp­son said.

The other 31 reg­u­lar and five “lift” buses get $105 for in­spec­tion fees and “they get no more dol­lars through­out the year,” he said. “All other cost, all other

re­spon­si­bil­ity is [on] the bus driver.”

Be­cause the trans­porta­tion ser­vices are con­tracted out and the school sys­tem doesn’t own the buses, the main­te­nance cost is “all on the driver, so if they choose to have one bus or 10 buses, the

ex­pense is no dif­fer­ent. We’re not re­ally pay­ing any ex­tra” for the spares, Thomp­son said.

“But you are. There is a cost … maybe not your cost, but [the driver’s] go­ing to put that in his ne­go­ti­ated price,” Davis said.

Board chair­man Karin Bai­ley said con­trac­tors “don’t just give us a flat amount. The costs as­soci-

ated are vet­ted out dur­ing the ne­go­ti­a­tions.”

She said at this time of year, as well in the spring, teach­ers may want to take their stu­dents on field trips but are “un­able to se­cure a bus” and give their stu­dents the ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ence.

Of­fer­ing field trips “gets some kids out of the county for the first and only time in their lives,”

Cathy Allen, board mem­ber said.

“If we didn’t have to ap­prove this, con­trac­tors would be within their rights to have spare buses,” she said.

Davis said he takes is-

sue with the $15 million price tag for trans­porta­tion costs, and said “if we had 30 [spare] buses in­stead of 65, maybe that $15 million would be a lot less.”

Bai­ley asked Thomp- son if another spare bus would be brought back to bring the spare ve­hi­cle pool up to 65.

Thomp­son said school staff “didn’t ask them to bring in [another] spare.”

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