Despite calls from the public for the Board of Education to reverse its bus contract decision, the board officially approved the transportation contract with All-Star Tuesday night.
The vote was 5-1 with Debbie Leidlein again being the sole dissenter. She reiterated her position that the board should delay making a decision on a bus provider until a labor complaint the Newtown Owner Operators filed with the state has been settled. .
Education board member David Nanavaty was absent from the meeting while Board Chairman Bill Hart and members Andrew Buzzi, Lillian Bittman, Richard Gaines and Keith Alexander voted in favor of the contract.
Hart said he believed the labor complaint was a separate process from the awarding of the contract and should not hamper the district in moving forward with its plans.
"We spent quite a bit of time focusing on this," he said of the bus contract. "We've really done the homework and made the right decision."
The board decided several weeks ago to . Since then, Hart and other officials met with All-Star to discuss some of the contract details – including adding a provision that recognizes the outstanding labor complaint and deducts the labor cost from the contract should the state rule in favor of the owner operators and they are retained as district employees. The labor costs range from $140.50 a day in the first year to $161.21 in the fifth year, in addition to the kindergarten route, which nets another $32 to $36.72 a day.
Earlier in Tuesday's meeting, several residents came before the education board to ask that members reverse their bus decision. Resident Jim Allyn, of Main Street, at one point led some audience members in a chant of "change the vote" before Hart threatened to "clear the room" and end public participation if the group chanting continued.
Allyn said he questioned the reported cost savings of hiring All-Star Transportation compared to the owner-operator system. The district said the cost-savings will amount to $1.5 million across five years while the owner-operator supporter said it will break out to be much less because the town will continue to rack up legal fees. The move also would put individual owner-operators out of business, which would be bad for Newtown's economy, Allyn said.
In contrast, the cost of keeping the existing owner-operator model would equate to each household in Newtown paying $2.60 more each month.
"Isn't it worth a cup of coffee per household?" Allyn asked.
Dylan Cortese, 12, also spoke in support of the owner-operators.
"I have known my bus driver since kindergarten," Dylan said. "He has know us more than we know ourselves."
In addition to many supporters who came out hoping to change the board's mind was Board of Finance member and lawyer Jim Gaston, who took issue with the education board discussing the proposed All-Star contract behind closed doors prior to taking a vote. Gaston said there was no basis to hold the discussion in executive session.
"It's illegal," Gaston said.
Hart said he read the item as listed on the agenda – "Executive Session: Discussion of a Document Exempt for Disclosure – Draft Transportation Contract" to the district's lawyer as well as Tom Hennick of the state Freedom of Information Commission, and both told Hart the matter could be discussed behind closed doors, he said.
Once the education board emerged from executive session, and voted on the matter, Hart released the now public contract document to Newtown Patch. It is posted with this article.
Correction: Jim Allyn's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this article.