4 School Bus Contract Bidders to Make Their Case

The school board will invite the four school bus contract finalists to a meeting and allow them to interact with the public.

The Board of Education will invite the four bus contract finalists to give a public presentation of their services, show off their buses and meet with the public prior to the board deciding whom to award the contract.

“We want to see all of these people, because ultimately, the services will be done by the people,” education board Chairman Bill Hart said at Tuesday's meeting at the Municipal Center.

The board has to make a decision on the bus contract before the end of August. But before it does, the board will schedule a two hour meeting during which all of the bidders will be asked to attend and give a 15-minute presentation on their operation and answer questions from board members.

The company also will be asked to bring bus drivers and other representatives who can meet with the public prior to the meeting. Board member Andy Buzzi said the board should recommend the bidders bring their buses as well as drivers so the public has a chance to assess the equipment and talk to the personnel.

“And then we can talk about it,” Buzzi said of what they find.

The meeting could potentially be scheduled for a weekend to provide parents an opportunity to attend, officials said.

First Student, All-Star Transportation, DATTCO and Newtown Owner-Operators are the four finalists. MTM, which had been the lowest bidder, apparently has dropped out of the process, officials said.

The awarding of the school bus contract has been a long-running controversy in town with dozens of parents coming before the Board of Education to ask the district retain its owner-operator system, which has been in place in Newtown for 70 years.

Supporters said the drivers know the town, and all of its dirt roads and quirks, as well as the students and their families, adding the additional level of service is worth added expense.

At the moment, the owner operators, whose contracts are set to expire next year, are the highest bidder. Two other companies that originally submitted bids came in higher but those firms are no longer considered in contention.

In either case, district Business Manager Ron Bienkowski said by putting the contract out to bid, Newtown can expect to save between $400,000 and $1.9 million during the term of a five-year contract, with savings on the lower end based on the Owner-Operators’ bid, and the higher end based on All-Star Transportation.

Pressures on the school system to find areas to save money are the primary reason for evaluating these bus bids, Bienkowski said.

The board also reviewed out-of-service reports from the Department of Motor Vehicles, which showed All Star with a low out-of-service percentage during Sept. 1, 2009 and Oct. 31, 2010 with one vehicle taken out of service out of 539 inspections. DATTCO had 85 out-of-service violation out of 677 inspections while First Student had 650 out of 2,708, according to the data presented.

DMV records for school bus companies and district-run operations are available online but individual owner-operators inspections are not.

Bienkowski was accompanied at the meeting by Bert Hughes, the transportation director for Education Connections. The two, along with board member Keith Alexander and town Finance Director Bob Tait and Director of Pupil Services Michael Regan, serve on a committee tasked with evaluating the bids.

The committee apparently also reviewed a database maintained by the Hartford Courant newspaper that listed DMV violations in 2009, which showed All Star with one out-of-service violation out of 430 buses; First Student with 1,133 out of 2,102; DATTCO with 85 out of 677; and the Owner-Operators with 25 out of 32, according to the data presented at the meeting.

Bienkowski said he obtained the information for the owner operators by typing in each bus’s unique identifier into the Courant’s online database. For 2010 information, Bienkowski said he reviewed records at the BOE transportation department, which were only available for 26 buses in 2010, and placed the number of violations at 14.

Correction: The violations cited in the presentation as originating from the Hartford Courant specifically related to out-of-service violations. An earlier version of this article did not specify them as being this type of violation.

Susan Joy July 27, 2011 at 09:57 PM
But in the big companies drivers are not always there for the full school year. It is a JOB for these drivers, they do a job, get paid and that is it. It is unlikely that they will know the students on their buses or anything specific about the family. It is not the same as owner operated buses.
Sam Mihailoff July 28, 2011 at 06:45 AM
Andy Buzzi said the board should recommend the bidders bring their buses as well as drivers so the public has a chance to assess the equipment and talk to the personnel. OUTSTANDING ANDY...JUST FRIGGIN' OUTSTANDING 1- IT'S YELLOW, wow, so's this one, that one too 2-What came first the employees or the contract?
Sam Mihailoff July 28, 2011 at 08:14 AM
2 hour meeting minus 1 hour (15 min. presentation X 4) minus 15 minutes (logistics, presentation set-up for each) minus 42 minutes ( each BOE member asks questions and gets response 1½ minutes X 7 BOE members X 4 companies Oh my, since we only have 3 minutes left of our two-hour farce, audience questions and participation will be limited to a group hug that nice song "WHEELS ON THE BUS" The BOE of the town played shuck and jive, wasted our time with show and smell The BOE of the town played shuck and jive, all through New-town!
Sandy Hook July 28, 2011 at 10:51 AM
Not always true. I grew up with a bus company one town over where the driver was a mother with kids in the school. She drove our bus for 10 years. Her toddler daughter used to ride the middle school bus with us until she was old enough to go to school herself. I would rather have O/Os, but not all bus companies have uncaring drivers that consider it "just a job".
Chris Spiro July 28, 2011 at 11:59 AM
What part of "We prefer Owner Operators" don't they understand?
Sam Mihailoff July 28, 2011 at 12:13 PM
Attorney Buzzi stated “And then we can talk about it,” Buzzi said of what they find." OK, Andy, and when is it that you exactly plan on this taking place? Oh, we wanted to, but the decision had to be made... This was a planned outcome from Day Uno. Once again taxpayer choice and wants mean zippo to the high and mighty BOE...November's coming...BYE BYE
george July 28, 2011 at 12:31 PM
ok so we are going to have each company pick the newest best bus they have and bring it for show and tell what's the point? then we will have them hand pick drivers that best represent what the company feels, and that when is all said n done will be driving somewhere other then Newtown again whats the point. For every driver any company brings we could go to that company and find a driver that felt totaly different. why did all-star drivers in new milford try to unionize twice, can't all be happy. Sorry but the whole idea is a big waste of time and money.
Kevin Fitzgerald July 28, 2011 at 03:57 PM
I want to address Sam's comment above "Once again taxpayer choice and wants means zippo to the high and mighty BOE." The comment did not mention that the official "taxpayer choice and wants" were made very clear two months ago when those same taxpayers defeated the budget forcing our town government to cut the BOE's requested budget by about $750,000 and sending the message that difficult budget seasons lie ahead. For the record, I too signed the petition stating that I would prefer to keep our Owner Operators. My family loved Mrs. Cash and we love Nancy. True professionals. I also wanted to keep the Educational Assistant positions and as a Legislative Council member, I and others tried to reduce the size of the cut to the schools so that fewer EAs would lose their jobs, but I was in the minority. It is clear to me that even though most people in town love their drivers, they are not willing to support the spending required for enough teachers, EAs and for anything other than a lower cost option for transportation. Some of us are willing to pay more for the services we want, and that's why I (and maybe Sam too?) voted YES at the first budget referendum. But again, majority rules. That's just how it goes. --- Kevin Fitzgerald ---- Note: My comment here does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Legislative Council.
Chris Spiro July 28, 2011 at 07:09 PM
Why not listen to what the people want. That's a novel idea for the elected officials.The budget was defeated because there were not enough things that the people wanted and too many things they didn't feel were necessary. We want good education for the children, sports, music, owner operators, fewer administrators, more teachers or assistants in the classroom, proper special ed, programs for the gifted, less frills and more basics. Eliminate waste.
Sam Mihailoff July 28, 2011 at 07:28 PM
Well, Kevin, you never addressed my comment. Mismanagement, defiance, and incompetence, were and are my concerns. As a LC member you might have questioned why Mrs. Robinson blatantly ignored the LC directive for well over a year regarding possible building usage. As a LC member you might question why the BOE was left in the dark that there were serious questions/problems pertaining parental concerns and the special education area. As a LC member you might question why taxpayer funds were used to get "legal coaching" on how to deal with parents. As a LC member you might question why the BOE in any foggy way will factually address the final transportation choice in this charade two-hour show and smell meeting. There are more smoke screens than a fleet of Thomas Diesels. Addressing these and other issues that cost the taxpayer "big time" are the issue. You sat right there while Janet blew more smoke when she stated "WE HAVE LOFTY GOALS"
Newtown Resident and Teacher July 28, 2011 at 09:18 PM
Chris - I would just like to point out that asking for "less frills" means something different to every voter. As has become clear in numerous comments on the Patch, some people think that sports, music, more teachers (lower student:teacher ratio), classroom EA's, gifted programs, and yes, even owner operators, are frills. I'm deliberately not stating my own opinion, but it's important to remember that "what the people want" is very hard to decipher. When the budget gets cut, the administration has to make hard decisions about how to spend the limited money. I am disappointed that the BOE has organized this bus contract bidding "charade" only to be given the message that their community outreach attempt is unwelcome. It seems that at this point, the BOE can do no right, whether they make a swift decision with less community input, or they make a protracted decision after soliciting community input.
Paul Mangiafico July 28, 2011 at 10:00 PM
This issue concerning the retention of the OO's has been broiling for a long time. It is very clear that the educational administration (Robinson/Bienkowski) have wanted for a long time to do away with the OO's. What is eaqually clear to many is that the BoE members (except for one) seem to be passengers on a bus driven by their employees. There is a very vocal and determined will of the people of this town that the OO's be continued. I have not heard any support from the people at large either verbally, in writing or privately for the OO's to be replaced. The administration says that we must engage in "structural changes" to secure economies. This is a supposed justification for this attempt to do away with an 80 year service that has served this community very well. The people have spoken loud and clear on this issue. Make the savings in many areas including transportation and eliminate waste in other areas but retain the OO's. When the handwriting is on the wall the only thing that remains to be seen is whether one knows how to read. If our Board does away with this system there truly will be "structural changes" - and it will be in the membership of the Board and through the new members the employees in the administration.
Frank Telaco July 29, 2011 at 01:26 AM
I am not going to speak out on this matter the BOE has already made up there mind to put in place an outside company. I will speak loudly with my votes in November and vote out the current board one member at a time. After watching them perform at there last meeting it is clear to me that a write in vote for any resident of Southbury Training School would be a better choice. I will speak with my Ballot
Hoa Nguyen August 02, 2011 at 04:37 AM
Hi all, there was a slight error in the story that was brought to my attention. I've corrected it and added this statement at the bottom of the article: The violations cited in the presentation as originating from the Hartford Courant specifically related to out-of-service violations. An earlier version of this article did not specify them as being this type of violation.
Sam Mihailoff August 02, 2011 at 10:48 AM
so if the data is flawed, how did the "banner committee" develop info for the plan...back to square one it would appear, yes lads??? or wass this done by design? ONLY THE SHADOW KNOWS"
Out Door John August 03, 2011 at 05:17 PM
Some questions for all bidders. First, is your bid 100% firm and guaranteed not to go any higher during final negotiations or during the duration of the contract for any reason? Second, will you guarantee that your busses will run 100% of the time and deliver the students to school on time 100% of the time or face monetary penalties for each offense? Third, put a clause in the contract which subjects the company to severe penalties if they do not fulfill all aspects of the contract and, if they fail to comply with the contract they are liable for dismissal and breach of contract and must pay the Newtown School System all fees to seek and hire another company to complete the duration of the contract. Put some teeth in this contract so they can't come back at a later date and ask for more money than their initial bid!!
Sharon potter August 03, 2011 at 08:45 PM
WINDSOR, CT The Windsor Board of Education has asked the New England School Development Council to assist the town in its search for a new superintendent of schools. Officials said James Connelly, an executive search consultant with NESDEC said he will be assisting the BOE throughout the search process. Town officials said the search process will involve members of the community and educational staff through a focus group, which will be designed to obtain participant input about the attributes, experience and knowledge that the new superintendent should possess. hmmmmmm
Anthony DiVanno August 16, 2011 at 01:54 PM
It is not a matter of what you have "heard" ...it is a matter of what you have chosen to "listen" to. No one wants the OO's to be replaced. The FACT is the voters have decided to cut the education budget and it is the BoE's mandate (...not the LC's) to decide on where to cut. Given the FACT that they have already cut educational resources, realizing a savings (greater than the amount the voters asked for) through a fair competitive bid process, seems pretty clear to me.
Anthony DiVanno August 16, 2011 at 01:57 PM
Thank God that one vote does not make an election!
Anthony DiVanno August 16, 2011 at 03:20 PM
...the part where "WE" voted to cut the education budget!


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