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DTC Speaks Out on Bus Contract Debate

The Democratic Town Committee issued a press release in connection with the debate surrounding the school bus contract bidding process.

The Democratic Town Committee affirms its commitment to the present owner-operator system of school bus transportation. Historically, the owner-operators have provided superior personal service to the community, have done so at a competitive and cost efficient manner, and have added to the economic well-being of the town.

The Democratic Town Committee previously made this commitment as a policy principle and the present circumstances cause us to reassess and reaffirm that commitment.

The Democratic Town Committee encourages a fair bidding process. Unfortunately the present Board of Education would allow its business manager to effectuate a bidding process that shuts out owner-operators.  Requiring a performance bond for each and every owner-operator is of no consequence except to intentionally cause their bids to rise.  No such requirement was made in the past.  There is no good reason for this concocted procedure except to unfairly disadvantage the owner-operators. 

There can be no dispute that the owner-operator system has provided the very best personal service to Newtown children and parents.  It is a service that is unparalleled.  One must question why a Board would throw away a tried and true owner-operator bus system?

The owner–operator matter is not solely a service provider issue; it is also an important community economic issue. The Newtown Democratic Town Committee recognizes that the maintenance of the owner-operator bus system is a vital piece of Newtown’s economic vitality.  Keeping the $2.5M - $3.0M dollars in the Newtown economy is critical.  From a cursory economic perspective, with an average economic multiplier of money factor of 3, the $2.5M-$3M paid to owner-operators in Newtown results in $7.5M - $9.0M dollars in community area dollar spending; add to that the property and vehicle taxes that Newtown collects from owner-operator buses. The choice to lose tax revenues and community dollar spending when the vast majority of voters want the owner-operator services makes no sense.

Finally, Dr. Janet Robinson, Superintendent, Ron Bienkowski, Business Director, and the Board of Education must recognize that any short term dollars saved will not necessarily be injected into the educational budget for other services. In summary, this unwise policy will result in a lesser quality of services, fewer education dollars, and significant economic loss to the town overall. We strongly encourage these leaders to reject the present avenue they are traveling. 

                                          Jim Gaston

                                           Newtown Democratic Town Committee

Mike Kelley June 16, 2011 at 07:04 PM
For transparency, I am not a member of the Democratic Town Committee, nor an owner operator. I am speaking for myself and agree with Jim Gastons' letter and the DTC statement. I urge the Board of Education to re think this procedure and negotiate in good faith to reach an agreement that is fair and equitable for the Owner Operators,the Town of Newtown and responsive to it's residents.
Caring About Newtown June 16, 2011 at 07:07 PM
I agree with NDTC, and yes certain services going out to bid...I understand completely. But, lowest and middle bids - you get what you pay for. Dr. Janet Robinson quoted this on her blog: "We use the golden rule in terms of our decisions that affect our students - What would we want if this were our own child - and take every child's safety as the top priority." Newtown owner operators and MTM have been excellent and given parents have peace of mind to know the children come 1st! Even if our Newtown owner operators and MTM were the highest bid, SO WHAT I would pay the price to know that my children are safe! Newtown owner operators and MTM are dealing with economic changes too! Keep the jobs here in Newtown! Many Newtown owner operators and MTM personnel live here in Newtown, some are parents (and immediate family) of our school children. Does the BOE place other services out to bid like glass, hvac, alarm services and food services? How many repeat repairs have been made to our schools that weren't fixed properly the first time. BOE just pays the bill even if just repaired recently. The bill gets re-worded or blamed on someone else. This is where the Board of Education (bean counters) have "failed" to make budget! Focus on what needs to be done. Don't put a Price Tag on Our Children's Safety - They should come 1st! Let the Newtown owner operators and MTM stay and do what they do best! Mary P
Susan McGuinness Getzinger June 16, 2011 at 08:21 PM
Regarding our Administration of late, a quote from a famous author puts much of it into perspective: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!" - Upton Sinclair"
cathy sullivan June 16, 2011 at 09:25 PM
Mary: Right on. I couldn't have said any more. I agree with you whole heartedly. My children are all grown but I still don't want the O/O buses to go away. These drivers have always shown concern for Newtown's children. Cathy S.
Tom Bittman June 17, 2011 at 01:11 AM
If there is a reason for the performance bond, it hasn't been adequately explained to the public. It certainly looks to me like an unnecessary and unfair requirement for an incumbent that has already "performed." If there is some legal reason, the administration should explain it. As to the economic math in the DTC opinion piece, that's completely illogical. The 30 owner/operators don't spend or cause to be spent $300,000 net additional in Newtown. Regardless, it certainly seems likely that they would be offered jobs as drivers for any new bus company, that would need to buy buses (which they might do from the O/Os) and hire drivers. The only logical economic statement is the loss of the property tax for the buses themselves. We need to get the fuzzy economic math and the weird performance bond requirement out of the way, and focus on the real question - known quality using people we know and care for, versus possibly lower cost from a company that we don't know. If the price gap is close, it should be a no-brainer - we want to maintain the current system. If the gap is wide, this is tougher. I'm afraid that there aren't enough people that would support paying more for quality in this town - there are too many voters every referendum who want a 0% increase, and not enough voters that take the time to vote "yes". How about a petition from 2000-3000 locals who promise to vote in the next referendum (one way or another) IF the O/O system is retained?
Jim Gaston June 17, 2011 at 07:22 AM
The economics is correct, in fact it may be underestimated. Basic non-military multipliers are in the 5 range, not 3. Our bus drivers have already said they aren't driving for single out of town entities, therefore, unless you are calling them liars the vast majority of bus drivers of distant out of town companies will be coming from out of town. Those drivers from other towns are not going to be spending their money in Newtown. As an Economics major with a emphasis in public finance, I would suggest you read Samuelson's on Economics, the basic textbook used in Economics 101 courses, to better understand the topic and concept of money factor multipliers.
Tom Bittman June 17, 2011 at 01:53 PM
The economics may be correct for their total spending impact in "the area", but your implication is that the spending would take place in Newtown, as opposed to, let's say, in Fairfield County, New York, amazon.com, etc., etc. You are also assuming that these people would choose unemployment over working for a bus company, and will not receive any kind of income in the future. You are also assuming the potentially "saved" money would not be put back in taxpayers pockets, or spent in some other way in our area. Finally, your statement that spending locally is critical to our economic vitality is arguable, since the vast majority of salaries earned by people in Newtown are paid by employers outside of Newtown, and the majority of Newtowner spending is outside of our town - which is the nature of a mostly bedroom community. Wouldn't it be better to focus on the core issue, which is our willingness to pay people we know for quality over potentially lower cost, rather than focus on the economic impact of 30 local drivers? I've never seen this kind of analysis before on cuts to teachers or EAs who live in town. To repeat, I want Newtown to be willing to pay for our O/Os, but not because of their economic impact to Newtown.
Jim Gaston June 17, 2011 at 05:42 PM
Your analogy assumes a parity in economic elasticity. The economy provides otherwise. Moreover, your comments are taken into account by the multiplier factor of 3 not 5. I don't know about you, maybe your much wealthier than I am, but I spend most money in the immediate Newtown area. Finally, this is why the analogy questions should be put back on the SAT tests. Comparing the owner-operator bus driver with the EA is a false analogy. No one is talking about replacing EAs from Newtown with EAs from Stratford, for example. In the bus case we are replacing a system, in the EA case we are nixing them (a bad idea by the way). That's why you have never before seen this kind of analysis before. I agree though that quality is a sentinel issue, as well.
Tom Bittman June 18, 2011 at 01:26 PM
I guess my real problem with this statement from the DTC is that it says we should pay higher taxes to maintain the O/O system, but it doesn't say how much extra. Are they worth a 10% premium, 50%, unlimited? Is the statement to the BOE that they should keep the O/O system at any cost to taxpayers? As a partisan statement, this makes the easy statement (the DTC loves the O/Os, as do we all) but ignores the more difficult question (the O/Os are a significant portion - 3% - of our annual taxes, and probably cost more than alternatives). If they maintain the premium bus system, the BOE loses by firing up the traditional "no" voters at referendum time. Be nice to see the DTC promote getting voters to the polls at referendum time, rather than push for the BOE to maintain high-cost services mid-year, and then stay silent when we all have to vote on the budget. Our elected officials and town party committees should spend much more time rallying voters when it's time to VOTE.
Dorothy June 19, 2011 at 06:31 PM
It should be noted that some residents may not have experienced the same level of service with the O/O system as others. My child has had at least 15 different bus drivers in 6 years. One of the drivers said his goodbyes midway through the year because 'he had to take a test the next day in order to contine to drive and he was not going to pass the test'! Regardless of my personal experiences with the system, putting the contract out to bid is just following best business practices. The BOE would be derelict in their responsibilities if they did not do so. I am disappointed with the DTC for their emotional statement.
Jim Gaston June 20, 2011 at 01:49 AM
The quote "My real problem with this statement from the DTC is that it says we should pay higher taxes to maintain the O/O system, but it doesn't say how much extra" intentionally misses what the the DTC statement says. Let me make it so clear that even a third grader can understand it...the DTC believes in a fair bidding process, for the first time requiring performance bonds knowing they can't be secured in bulk and time by the O/Os, and unnecessarily inflates their cost bids is unfair. If a fair bidding process were implemented the DTC is confident that the bids would be competitive, and the exemplary services historically provided by the O/Os, along with the local economic plus, would make O/O the clear choice. Unfortunately, to date the school administration and BoE have failed to act accordingly. What Tom is finally frank enough to admit is that he doesn't like the statement because it comes from the Democrats. This matter is too important for partisan politics. I do love the statement about what the DTC should do to get the vote out...this from an individual who knows nothing about the actual efforts of the DTC to get the vote out. With all due respect, such a statement is as shallow as his prior lack of knowledge regarding economic and analogies. "What my real problem is" ... is that it came from Democrats, really says it all. The issue is about facts and fairness, not emotion.
Jim Gaston June 20, 2011 at 02:07 AM
I have four children who have been driven by the O/Os. They have provided remarkable services, above and beyond anything you get outside of Newtown. I know, I have represented many children killed and injured by negligent and/or drug addicted drivers. Ms. Werdon is one of the first complaints I've heard about the O/Os in my 20 years in Newtown. In fact, historically, many of the O/O drivers have been some of the pillars of our community, Bill Holian, Lee Glover, Joe Borst, etc. And the present drivers are likewise, they include war heroes, professionals, etc. The owner-operators, children of Newtown, and taxpayers deserve a fair shake. Safety and economics are significant factors. So far, fairness isn't happening.
Mike Kelley June 20, 2011 at 02:29 AM
In my opinion, this whole situation can be solved very simply. Amend the bid to allow the owner operators to submit individuals bids as has been done for years. Take that total bid and add it up and compare that to the other bids. Consider the safety records and incidents of occurences by the vendors, all of which are a matter of public recod. Amend the bid to eliminate the requirement to have them post a 1,00,000 performance bond. It is impossible for this group to submit a bid under any other circumstances given the time frame of this RFQ. Not sure if this was by design. Not sure what the differential should be in total cost,however I am making an assumption, I believe there are already Federal Aquistion Regulations ( FAR) and SBA Regulations in effect that answer this question. The CT Procurement and Technical Assistance Program can advise on this matter for all. Contact them. www.ctptap.org. As far as the driver not being able to pass the test; if in fact it happened, that is why local control is better than regional or out of state control. Tom . I am as dissapointed as you are in the results of voter turnout. I have not been a memeber of the DTC for over two years, however having spent countless hours calling to get out the vote , even after having had to resign due to work committments, it is very discouraging. I see nothing emotioanal about the DTC statement. Not sure why someone had 15 drivers in 6 years. In our neighborhood it has been about 2 in 25 years.
Tom Bittman June 20, 2011 at 04:34 AM
Lower the emotion and anger a bit. My first comment was that I agreed with you that the performance bond requirement was unfair (or it needs to be explained). The rest of my statement doesn't require your interpretation. I haven't seen any DTC press releases or opinion pieces or letters to the editor calling for voters to approve any budget recently. There are two voting Democrats in my household (in fairness, not me) who haven't seen or heard a thing from the DTC in recent years, so they also missed DTC efforts to drive budget approval, much less get the vote out. On the other hand, my house has been called numerous times by PTAs and various education supporters promoting budget approval (I've spent hours calling voters myself). I think it's a fair statement that we would be more successful with our referenda if our elected officials and town committees put some marketing muscle into getting budgets approved. Compare the silence from the town committees at budget time to the huge marketing efforts they put out to to get their candidates elected. Maybe you feel you've done enough. I disagree. Instead, we get opinion pieces like this, affirming your commitment to the vendors that account for one of the largest line items in the education budget, combined with a warning that any savings would be taken away from education anyway. Not helpful. This is a tough problem. I agree we should ensure fairness in this process, but we shouldn't try to derail a competitive bidding process.
Jim Gaston June 20, 2011 at 12:12 PM
You confuse facts with "emotions" and "anger"...interesting. By the way, the DTC isn't going to call your wife who sits on the Board of Education to remind her to vote. If she doesn't know when and where to vote...well, enough said. And, I doubt they are going to call you after your "emotional" frivilious grievances (readily dismissed) you filed against certain public officials with which I understand not even your wife wanted filed. The reason you don't know about the "get out the vote" efforts of the DTC and its members, phone calls, letters, website, etc. is because the "Democrats" in your family neither attend, support nor are active in any of the DTC activities, at least as far as I have seen, and I'm pretty active. So next time, try to corral some facts before shooting from the hip, please. Finally, no one is "trying to derail the competitive bidding process," that's just misdirection. On the contrary, the DTC is concerned that there won't be a fair competitive bidding process as the present performance bond system exists. It also notes that quality of service and community economics are important components in the decision process. Please try not to misdirect attention away from those three components.
Hoa Nguyen June 20, 2011 at 02:04 PM
How about we leave it as we will agree to disagree on this topic. Thanks.
WaxyGordon June 20, 2011 at 02:58 PM
Bottom line is: Whether we get rid of O/O's or not...our taxes will not go down. They will find some reason to not lower them
Tom Bittman June 20, 2011 at 03:03 PM
Agreed. We should be able to discuss issues without insults, sarcasm and ad hominem arguments - that pretty much stops any rational dialogue, and keeps a lot of people who have thin skins from participating in the discussion.
Tom Bittman June 20, 2011 at 05:19 PM
Mike, this is entirely logical. Again, if there is a reason NOT to allow independent bids and eliminate the performance bond, it hasn't been explained to the public (or at least I haven't heard it yet). Also, my personal experience with bus drivers over 16 years has been entirely positive. Oh, there have been the very rare occasions where I've seen drivers using cell phones (drives me crazy), and I've heard of individual issues that had to be handled, but I have no doubt in my mind at all - none at all - that a bus company would increase the problems ten-fold. Let's make this a level playing field, and focus on the core issue - which I believe is paying for superior quality vs. potentially lowering our costs. And if I can make my point as constructively as possible - if the BOE chooses quality and higher cost vs. lower cost, let's support that at referendum time - otherwise, we are choosing O/Os over investing in core education. These are not separate issues.

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