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Are You (Even More) Confused Yet?

Why does everything in this town have to be so complicated?

Remember in the "old" days when your teacher would say, “Let’s review?”

I would love to be able to perform a nice, simple review of the whole issue of school transportation but my editor would send it back with instructions to trim about 10,000 words!

Besides, I’m so confused at this point that a thorough review would be impossible anyway.

The last two pieces to this whole thing that I’ve seen were a communication from the chairman of the Board of Education which, as it turns out, seems to have been issued without the knowledge or consensus of the rest of the board followed by the involvement of the Legislative Council!

The letter I refer to cites two important reasons for why we need to tamper with what has been a very competent, beneficial system of transportation and one which the public obviously wants.

First, it seems we are supposedly paying 33-percent more “for its regular bus route services than the going market rate.”

Where on earth did that number come from? It simply doesn’t square with the bids received from various bus companies.

Also, what is meant by “regular bus routes?” Are they taking into account special education transportation needs, which the owner-operator bid included?

Second, you have the statement that “the district also incurs additional administrative expenses managing 32 separate contractors than it would with a single supplier.”

That’s absurd. Each owner-operator and a board representative signs a contract. Period. Done.

There are so many things about this whole process that are beginning to become infuriating that I hardly know where to start.

First you have key players whose objectivity and interest in the welfare of  our students has long since vanished. Then you have the chairman of the BOE apparently issuing statements on his own.

Combine all of this with irregularities in the bidding process and the subsequent conflicting numbers being fed to the public and you have a very cloudy situation indeed.

A complicating factor in this entire matter is the effort of some to get us to focus on what is in my view a non-issue — bus safety records. 

We’ve seen all sorts of numbers, explanations and references. Why does it matter? Buses take a tremendous beating. They’re going to break down. Let’s concede that when they do, bus companies and the owner-operators alike fix them. They’re not making anyone any money sitting idle.

A second complicating factor in this discussion is the tendency for some to "bird walk" into other areas, i.e., other BOE expenditures, the EA fiasco, etc. 

Can we please stick to the topic?

Finally, why does  politics have to be an issue? There are those who just have to bring political parties into the discussion or, even worse, get personal and often abusive.

On top of the misinformation, politics, introduction of irrelevant issues, we now have the Legislative Council adding their two cents.

The focus of our attention should be who do we want driving our kids to and from school — not what political party endorses a particular position or what the bus looks like or any of the other issues muddying up the waters. 

Why is that so complicated?

In my view the Board of Education has to share much of the blame for this. 

At first glance it looks as though they’re trying to do this the right way but look who most of them are listening to? It certainly isn’t the public. 

This whole thing is beginning to make the recent debt ceiling talks look like a picnic in the park.

To me it comes down to this. The cost of the owner-operator system is not that far out of line. It is the clear choice of the public. So what’s the problem? Sign them to another five years and get it over with.

What’s next? The bus companies and the owner-operators show up for a series of dog and pony shows, parading their shiny new buses and giving their presentations.

And the beat goes on.

Kathy Fetchick August 11, 2011 at 03:03 PM
Part 2: The Board invites the public to learn about this important bidding process and become involved. Several opportunities are available to do so: · A Public Informational Session: WHEN: Saturday August 20th, 10:00 AM WHERE: Newtown High School Berkshire Road, Sandy Hook WHO: The Newtown Board of Education, school transportation bid finalists and the general public WHAT: Presentations by each of the bidders will be followed by a question and answer session with the Board. The bidders will available to meet with the public following the formal meeting. · It’s Your Government program is airing on Charter Community Vision Channel 21 Tuesday August 9th 8:30 p.m. Thursday August 11th 3:00 p.m. Tuesday August 16th 8:30 p.m. Thursday August 18th 3:00 p.m. · Newtown Public School’s website: www.newtown.k12.ct.us The Newtown Board of Education will make the final decision on the transportation contract based on attaining the ultimate goal of providing students and the community with the best solution of achieving the right balance between quality, safety, cost and service for the students of Newtown Public Schools.
Kathy Fetchick August 11, 2011 at 03:03 PM
Part 3: Newtown Schools and Town would like to continue connecting with you via email. If you prefer to be removed from our list, please contact Newtown Schools and Town directly. To stop receiving all email messages distributed through our SchoolMessenger service, follow this link and confirm: Unsubscribe SchoolMessenger is a notification service used by the nation's leading school systems to connect with parents, students and staff through voice, SMS text, email, and social media.
Sam Mihailoff August 11, 2011 at 03:22 PM
Parents in the school district received the following communication - it was not signed so don't know who initiated the email. If the school parents are the only ones picking up the tab, that's fine. We all know this not to be true. How does one gaiin info without being a bloodhound or relying on the only viable media source, namely PATCH...which was referred to by one of the illustrious blowhards on the LLC as "merely social media" Anything that affects taxpayers should be timely posted, pony expressed, emailed, mailed...telegraphed, telegram, whatever source is convenient; without a search pasty necessary to gain info.
Po Murray August 11, 2011 at 03:29 PM
The News and Announcements I receive from the "town" is not signed but I welcome the information. I welcome the communication from the "schools" as well.
Anthony DiVanno August 11, 2011 at 03:42 PM
The money they generate is from overcharging for their services...
NewtownResident August 11, 2011 at 04:29 PM
Now, Charles, wait a minute and get your facts straight. The owner operators went to the Connecticut Labor Relations Board after the town hired a man to recheck contracts. That lead to the discovery that the owner operators might not in fact be owner operators, but rather town employees. They didn't go there to pressure the town to accept their offer; they went there because the town just proved that they have been cheated out of quite a bit. In addition, if the owner operators are, in fact, 'town employees' as their contract suggests, this entire process has been groundless. The town would be required to negotiate with the owner operators before looking to hire out.
NewtownResident August 11, 2011 at 04:31 PM
All star's claim that they can run the high school run with four less buses is no doubt founded on the idea that most seniors and juniors drive themselves in. Regardless, according to state law, all students must have an assigned seat on a buss. I would have them draw up their runs before looking into hiring them.
Anthony DiVanno August 11, 2011 at 05:02 PM
If you are as "confused" as your article states you might consider developing a practice of becoming more informed before you accuse another person of being misinformed. Not only would you become less confused but you will not participate in adding to the confusion.
Douglas Brennan August 11, 2011 at 07:28 PM
Mike If the O/O's are considered Town employees aren't there major tax issues that they face? They would, most likely, be subject to restating all their earnings, changing the way they account for their depreciation on their equipment, the storage of their buses, transportation to and from their first pickup from their home, etc. Do the ends justifies the means? Or is this just an expensive tactical move on the part of the O/O? In that case do they have the best interests of the Town at heart or merely their own?
Douglas Brennan August 11, 2011 at 07:32 PM
How much has the Borough donated so far this year? Doesn't the Town donate $150,000 per year for a facility that they do not use?
Mary Ann Jacob August 11, 2011 at 10:25 PM
Hi Sam, School bus yellow is the official name I think:)
Sam Mihailoff August 11, 2011 at 10:35 PM
NOPE...that would be too logical. I got this question wrong on my driver;s exam way back when. Now, of course everyone calls them yellow and that stupid question has been deleted from the exam but there is an official name for the color and yellow does not appear in it........so, NO SOUP FOR YOU
Wendy Wheeler August 11, 2011 at 10:55 PM
National School Bus CHROME
Jan Andras August 11, 2011 at 10:57 PM
It's called "chrome yellow"
Sam Mihailoff August 11, 2011 at 11:02 PM
DING DING DING DING....WE HAVE A WINNER
robin fitzgerald August 11, 2011 at 11:14 PM
Just for the record, I love our bus drivers but I also love my teachers, EAs, library assistants, Project adventure, Music Tech, the late NMS bus, 4th grade orchestra, etc., etc. I am always reluctant to comment here because it does always get so heated... however, I really need to clarify the facts above about road mileage. In fact, Newtown isn't first in the state in terms of road mileage, Newtown is 5th - behind Danbury, Bridgeport, Fairfield, and Norwalk. Also, according to the CT Department of Education 2009 Strategic School Profile the top 4 schools spend less per pupil on transportation than Newtown does. Norwalk spends $506pp, Fairfield spends $649pp, Danbury spends $583pp, and Bridgeport spends $609pp Newtown spends $878pp with less road miles. Anyone can look this stuff up. It's all public information. Our elected town officials have the responsibility to make data driven decisions. This has been said over and over again on this commentary and others. When is it OK to make an emotional decision when there is this much money at stake? AND when it affects our children and their futures?
robin fitzgerald August 11, 2011 at 11:18 PM
I posted this comment above in response to Wendy Wheeler's comment about Newtown bus routes being #1 in the state in terms of road mileage. That isn't correct. And, just for the record, I love our bus drivers but I also love my teachers, EAs, library assistants, Project adventure, Music Tech, the late NMS bus, 4th grade orchestra, etc., etc. In fact, Newtown isn't first in the state, Newtown is 5th - behind Danbury, Bridgeport, Fairfield, and Norwalk. Also, according to the CT Department of Education 2009 Strategic School Profile the top 4 schools spend less per pupil on transportation than Newtown does. Norwalk spends $506pp, Fairfield spends $649pp, Danbury spends $583pp, and Bridgeport spends $609pp Newtown spends $878pp with less road miles. Anyone can look this stuff up. It's all public information. Our elected town officials have the responsibility to make data driven decisions. This has been said over and over again on this commentary and others. When is it OK to make an emotional decision when there is this much money at stake? AND when it affects our children and their futures?
Mike Kelley August 12, 2011 at 02:38 AM
Can someone post these websites so we can look at them? Spending per pupil for transportation and the number of miles of roads in these 5 locations is very confusing. I find it hard to believe Brigdgeport and Norwalk have more miles of roads to transport kids to schools than Newtown, but then again I am not a math guy. Geographic size alone for these areas are substantially different, Maybe that is why we have to spend more. Independant clarification before this big meeting would be nice.
Douglas Brennan August 12, 2011 at 12:19 PM
Strategically the centralization of "Newtown" vs. the regionalization of "Newtown" adds substantially to the costs of transportation. Let us suppose that we eliminate the bad experiment of the 5/6 school. Our transportation costs would go down wouldn't they? Also the "stem time" , the time that students sit on the bus in non productive activities would go down wouldn't it? And if we eliminated the need to bus all the 5/6 kids to a non suitable educational institution wouldn't the results be better? Great tactics, meaning getting the best value on busing cannot overcome bad strategy (centralization vs. decentralization). Where do we think these costs will trend as energy costs continue to rise? Will the O/O be capable of investing in more energy efficient equipment should we be required to have hybrids or electric buses? Are we really making a strategic decision or another response to tactical conditions? How many fewer buses will be required when the Middle School is no longer needed?
Douglas Brennan August 12, 2011 at 12:22 PM
Mike: Thank you. If we disagree on the facts we will rarely agree on the conclusions. We may still disagree but at least we are both looking at "real data."
Carey Schierloh August 12, 2011 at 12:32 PM
From CT DOT- While Newtown may have a few less road miles than these cities, Newtown is 2-3 times larger in area. Theses cities have sidewalks, a large number of students walk to school. Note New Milford has less road miles than Newtown but their per pupil expenditure for All-Star transportation is higher than Newtown. Along with fewer road miles, New Milford also has fewer schools and fewer students and is in DRG D. Bridgeport 284.98 road miles 19.4 square miles Danbury 277.27 road miles 44.3 square miles Fairfield 293.04 road miles 31.3 square miles Newtown 275.56 road miles 59.1 square miles Norwalk 276.34 road miles 36.3 square miles New MIlford 235.09 road miles 63.7 square miles http://sdeportal.ct.gov/Cedar/WEB/ResearchandReports/SSPReports.aspx http://www.ct.gov/dot/lib/dot/documents/dpolicy/publicroad/2008public_roadmileage.pdf
Wendy Wheeler August 12, 2011 at 01:34 PM
5566 students x 878pp = 4886948 / 35 o/o's = 139627.08 does not compute Robin the o/o's are underpaid according to your figures
robin fitzgerald August 12, 2011 at 02:20 PM
First, school systems in Connecticut are required by law to have a seat on a bus for every student registered in school regardless of whether the child walks on sidewalks or not. I believe that the "per student" is based on enrollment, not whether they are walking or riding on a bus. Second, "road miles" are the actual miles driven by the drivers. A more compact "city" type of town with square blocks may be smaller in sq miles than another town but have more road miles. It may also have more "full stops" and more traffic lights, etc. A town like ours may have more sq miles in area but have fewer roads with 2-5 acre zoning. One question Carey, if Newtown has "a few less road miles" than why is the cost per pupil so much more? This would have been a good figure to use when preparing a bid. It would have given the O/Os a basis to be more competitive. Wendy I don't know why those numbers don't compute they are the State of Connecticut numbers. You are saying that the O/O are underpaid, I think ALL the people who come in daily contact with the students are underpaid. I have said so many times. Because we (people, elected and otherwise) use "cost per pupil" for various items to see if we are spending more or less than we have to and what we are getting for it.
robin fitzgerald August 12, 2011 at 02:21 PM
The unfortunate thing about this negotiation is that the BOE, for good or for bad, were told by the BOF and the LC to "make structural changes" on budget items. They are following that direction. Where else can they look for the kind or cuts that were handed down in the past number of years? The classroom? Again, I ask the question, when is it OK to make an emotional decision when so much is at stake? Teachers? No. Programs? No. EAs? No. Quality? No. O/Os? Which one of these items or any others (on the town side) deserve emotion or sentimentality?
yoda August 12, 2011 at 04:17 PM
It's coming down to survival, every man out for himself, the exact opposite of what our town stands for.
Carey Schierloh August 12, 2011 at 07:01 PM
No, towns do not have to provide transportation to every students, and the cities don't. Newtown BOE policy states that students in elementary school can walk up to a mile and high school up to 1.5 miles, but we pick up all students as there are sidewalks only in part of the borough. Population is concentrated in the cities, a bus would not have to go far to be full. Newtown has more area and miles to cover. There are routes where a bus drives 5, 6, 7 miles before picking up a student. It can pick up all the students in that area and return to school with the bus half full b/c the students are so spread out and routes are to be 45 minutes or less per BOE. Cities are different and it is not an apple to apple comparison.
Douglas Brennan August 13, 2011 at 12:45 PM
Robin: Doesn't it seem rather strange for the State of CT to require that every student have a seat on a bus regardless of whether they ever intend to use it or not. Is that efficient? Is that efective? I wonder who was responsible for this? In a modern economy with statistical modeling, forecasting aids and computers does this make sense? Is this really helpful to the environment to have half full buses traveling around town each and every school day?
Douglas Brennan August 13, 2011 at 12:47 PM
Robin A structural change would include eliminating all work rules in contracts with the Town wouldn't it?
Douglas Brennan August 13, 2011 at 12:49 PM
Tom: Isn't this a BOE issue and not an DTC or RTC or Leg. Coun. or Selectment issue?
Susan McGuinness Getzinger August 22, 2011 at 03:18 AM
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