RSU 5 board eyes hiring outside bus company

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FREEPORT — Regional School Unit 5 is considering cost-cutting measures that would replace district-owned buses and drivers with a hired transportation company.

The transportation budget is currently $1.06 million.

A transportation analysis presented at the RSU 5 board meeting on Jan. 27 outlined three transportation options. Superintendent Shannon Welsh said the options have been developed by the finance subcommittee for several months.

The district now owns 14 buses; three more are leased and six are contracted. Four are spares, to be used as needed.

The first option, Welsh said, would replace the existing lease contract. It calls for leasing two buses starting as soon as next school year, and would cost $1,150 more per year because the buses would be newer and in better repair than the existing leased buses. Nothing else would change.

The second option, effective in fiscal year 2012, would sell all the buses and lay off all the employees. In their place, the district would contract out for drivers and 22 buses.

Welsh said the second option would save the district up to $86,000 a year, but it would take six years to realilze those savings. By fiscal year 2017 the buses will be purchased by a contractor and the district will receive credit for its assets, she said.

Option 3 is the same as option 2, but would begin as soon as the next school year, Welsh said.

“Whatever happens, this will be an incredibly public process,” she said. “We are looking at a substantial state subsidy reductions over the next two years and need to find savings.”

Welsh said there will be a public hearing on the transportation issue Wednesday, Feb. 10, and the School Board could make a decision as soon as Feb. 24.

“The impact to people has not been figured out yet,” she said. “We have to see what the board is going to do, then after their vote, we can look at the impact to the employees.”

She said the board understands the impact these changes will have on employees, and said it was also a difficult decision for the board to make.

“This is part of the budget process,” Welsh said. “It is not business as usual. We have to cut some positions to protect actions closest to the classroom.”

Pauline Gillis, a bus driver for RSU 5, said she believes her job is in jeopardy.

“(RSU 5 board members) said the new bus company could hire us back, but they don’t have to,” Gillis said.

Of the 12 bus drivers employed by the district, eight from Freeport also work as custodians. Losing the driving time could cost them their full-time status and benefits.

Gillis said she has worked long enough to have earned a four-week annual vacation and has health insurance that will be lost if she is laid off from the driving portion of her job.

“We heard it through the grapevine the RSU was looking into this, but it was a total shock to the system to hear it,” she said. “In this economy? It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Gillis said the bus drivers met Friday, Jan. 29, to discuss the proposals and set up an e-mail address, [email protected], for people who cannot attend the Feb. 10 meeting to express their opinions.

She also said the employees are looking for more information and want more concrete answers.

“We feel the meeting left more questions than answers,” Gillis said. “We want facts and want to know what the proposal really means.”

The meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 10, is at 6:30 p.m. at Freeport High School.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or [email protected]