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School Bus Contract Debate Begins

The Board of Education takes up the issue of sending the school bus contract out to bid, which places the beloved owner-operator system at risk.

The highly controversial issue of who should provide student transportation in Newtown took center stage Tuesday night during a well-attended meeting at the Municipal Center in which the Board of Education discussed the move to put the school bus contract out to bid

“This is an issue in town that is very sensitive and very unusual,” education board member Andy Buzzi said of Newtown's owner-operator bus system. "I don't believe that there is any other town in Connecticut that does this."

The district has contracts with multiple people who own and operate their own buses in town, which are parked at their homes and from which they start their daily bus runs.

Newtown has a longstanding and beloved tradition of using the owner-operator system to provide student transportation, but the cost, which amounts to about $3 million a year, according to budget figures, has led some officials to question whether it is too high.

Contracts with all of the owner and operators end next year and in preparation, the district issued a request for sealed bids, which has garnered controversy in the community.

Buzzi said the school district had no choice but to put the contract out to bid. 

“Our policy indicates that when we are engaged in contractual services in excess of $30,000, we would have to bid that,” Buzzi said, adding that board members have been reprimanded by other town boards when policy has not been followed. “We could expect the Board of Finance to let us know…we’re bidding this because that is what we need to do because of our policy.”

Officials said the bus contract was estimated to be worth up to about $14 million over five years.

Nearly every seat was taken during the Monday meeting, in which the bus contract discussion was one of many items on the agenda.

Former first selectmen Herb Rosenthal and Joe Borst attended and spoke during public participation, urging the board to preserve the owner-operator system, saying that it has served the town well for about 70 years.

“If you kill the owner-operator system and they dispose of their buses, there will be no going back,” Rosenthal said. “We will be at the mercy of one or more bus companies for as long as we are transporting school children.”

District Business Director Ron Bienkowski said transportation costs was among one of the most expensive items in the school budget.

“Transportation represents the third largest single line item, which is only preceded by salary and benefits,” he said. “This past year, we’ve been hammered with our need to find structural changes...When you look at a contract this large, there are significant potential for cost savings that can be spread over five years.”

The district has moved to using a bus company for some of its routes in recent years, namely MTM to provide special education transportation. When officials reviewed the bids at that time, they saw that the prices for regular size buses were less than the cost of the owner-operator system.

“If you conservatively look at the results from that bid, which asked for prices of regular size buses, we were talking $2.5 million, which is basically half-a-million a year that could be saved by having an operator come in and do the entire transportation system,” Bienkowski said. “I think it is our fidicuary responsibility to look at this as thoroughly as we can.”

The business director said that looking at the bus contract for “structural changes” -- a term used by members of other town boards in calling for the school district to find ways to cut costs -- was similar to switching to a self-funded health insurance program that has netted the town significant savings.

“The only thing that keeps ringing in my head is we have to make structural changes,” Bienkowski said, adding the only other area where the district could make substantial changes was in the teaching staff.

Board member Debbie Leidlein said she disagreed with the approach, particularly the requirement of a performance bond in submitting bids, which is likely to be cost-prohibitive for owner-operators. She questioned the need for such a bond if owner-operators were to submit a bid.

Performance bonds are issued in large bidding situations to guarantee that the company bidding on the service won’t go bankrupt or lack the resources to complete the job.

Bienkowski said the bond was important because the district was seeking one contract rather than the current system of contracts with 31 individuals providing the service.

“This is a different approach to providing the transportation in Newtown,” he said. “The goal is to have a single contract not multiple contracts…It’s encumbered on (owner-operators), particularly if they are going to collaborate…that they will be able to hit that performance bond.”

However, by requiring the performance bond, the district has automatically precluded owner-operators from submitting a bid, Leidlein said in asking whether the district could waive the performance bond for owner-operators.

“We would be in essence possibly eliminating our current transportation system, which is beloved in our town,” she said. “In that respect, I have a problem with not giving them the opportunity to bid on this in a way that they have, as we heard for the last 90 years.”

Bienkowski said he would recommend against it. At the same time, Buzzi said it was common to have bids fail short of some of the requirements, and it would be up to the board to decide whether that was acceptable.

“Let’s look at the bids and then it’s going to be up to this board to evaluate the bids,” he said.

Education board chairman Bill Hart asked whether it would be possible for the district to reissue the request for bids at a later time, but Bienkowski said he would advise against that because based on the time line, the district will open all of the bids on June 23, which would reveal all of the costs to the public and possibly undermine the process.

“If you throw them all out, they are going to know what the lowest bidder is,” Bienkowski said of the submitted bids and interested contractors.

The board is expected to review the matter again at its July 12 meeting.

Sam Mihailoff June 12, 2011 at 02:42 AM
Akthough I totally agree with you Mike, this is not about what is fair. It is a technical loophole found by that certain someone on the top of the Education pyramid. If a change in transportaion systems does in fact come to pass; it will be a sad day for the O/O individuals, the parents, children and town in general. Yes, this is one time when I see the strength in numbers being successful with the torches and pitchforks. Mismanagement and incompetence is being shielded by this "Cloak Of Deceipt" called structural change. I'm all for structural change and would volunteer to drive "her" to the town line and wave good-bye. This is the structural change that is needed.
Mike Kelley June 12, 2011 at 02:55 AM
Well lets get going and get behind these people. Please pass the word. There is a petition at the Drug Center. Don is another great guy, who is always supporting our Town residents and who is competeing with the Big Guys; that folks can sign. Might be other locations in town as well.
Susan McGuinness Getzinger June 12, 2011 at 03:01 AM
The UPS Store across from Stop N Shop has a petition, as well.
Mike Kelley June 12, 2011 at 03:02 AM
Sorry folks for the duplication. I did not think the first one went through. My PC went down. I think you see where I am coming from. Please get behind this effort to not only save our town some dollars, but provide proven School transportation for the kids.
Susan McGuinness Getzinger June 12, 2011 at 03:08 AM
SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS 2-100 http://www.newtown.k12.ct.us/site/files/2-100.pdf The Superintendent of Schools shall be the executive officer of the Board, shall have executive authority over the school system and the responsibility for its supervision, and shall be directly responsible to the Board for the execution of its policies; for the faithful and efficient observance of its rules by all employees throughout the system; for the management of the work of the departments whose duties, apart from those required by law, the Superintendent shall assign; and for the enforcement of all provisions of the law relating to the operation of the schools or other educational, social, and recreational agencies or activities under the charge of the Board. The Superintendent shall have, among others, the following specific responsibilities: a. Formulate policies and short/long range plans for consideration and action by the Board of Education; b. Execute and administer policies and plans the Board has adopted and carry out such other duties as required by law or as directed by the Board of Education;...... ...j. Prepare and submit the Certificate of Compliance (ED002) to the Commissioner of Education verifying conformance to and compliance with the applicable statutory obligations for the Newtown Public Schools. Adopted 3/12/96
Susan McGuinness Getzinger June 12, 2011 at 03:08 AM
TRANSPORTATION SERVICES I. TRANSPORTATION CONTRACTS 3-701 http://www.newtown.k12.ct.us/site/files/3-701.pdf A. School Bus Contracts The Board of Education will provide scheduled, daily transportation within Newtown only through contracts with owner-operators of school buses, or any other appropriate means. Contract terms shall be determined by the Superintendent or his designee, based upon the best interests of the Board. SCHOOL TRANSPORTATION 3-700 http://www.newtown.k12.ct.us/site/files/3-700.pdf The Board of Education is responsible for the efficiency of the school bus system as determined by the selection of bus routes, the scheduling of bus trips, the authorization of bus trips, and the authorization of bus stops. The Superintendent of Schools shall be responsible for the execution of the transportation policy and regulations. Subject to Board approval, he may delegate this duty to the Director of Business or another member of his staff. The Superintendent of Schools or designee is responsible for establishing proper standards of safety, based upon those developed by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Division, Department of Motor Vehicles, State of Connecticut, in the operation of school buses and shall ensure their enforcement by the operator. Adopted 4/28/59 Updated 11/11/75, 5/10/88, 10/10/95, 2/12/02
Susan McGuinness Getzinger June 12, 2011 at 03:15 AM
Department of Motor Vehicles TABLE OF CONTENTS Operation of School Buses Sec. 14-275c-18. Backing http://www.ct.gov/dmv/lib/dmv/regulations/275c.pdf Backing of the school bus shall be avoided, if possible. When backing maneuvers cannot be avoided, children shall be retained inside the bus. If there are children outside the bus, no backing maneuver shall be made unless a competent adult observer is on hand to direct the maneuver. (Effective August 19, 1974) .....Newtown Policy for Superintnendent: SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS 2-100 http://www.newtown.k12.ct.us/site/files/2-100.pdf j. Prepare and submit the Certificate of Compliance (ED002) to the Commissioner of Education verifying conformance to and compliance with the applicable statutory obligations for the Newtown Public Schools. Adopted 3/12/96 My FOIA request of this the Superintnedent can't seem to find. If she hasn't filed it, she is breaking her contract, therefore, has to go. If she filed it annually, as she is to by Newtown Policy, and she states that she has complied, then, with the designation of backing our school bus (and many others), she is actually NON COMLIANT with DMV LAW and if stated otherwise, she would have made false statement(s) - annually. Which is it? Non compliant or non compliant with false statement(s)?
Susan McGuinness Getzinger June 12, 2011 at 04:15 AM
http://www.cga.ct.gov/2011/pub/chap170.htm#Sec10-238.htm Sec. 10-238. Petition for hearing by board of education. The board of education of any municipality, upon written petition signed by one per cent of the electors of such municipality or fifty such electors, whichever is greater, the signatures thereon to be verified by the clerk of the municipality, shall hold a public hearing on any question specified in such petition. Such hearing shall be held at a time and place to be designated by such board, not later than three weeks after receipt by the board of such petition.
Susan McGuinness Getzinger June 12, 2011 at 04:20 AM
Legal fees ... http://www.cga.ct.gov/2011/pub/chap170.htm#Sec10-238.htm Sec. 10-235. Indemnification of teachers, board members, employees and certain volunteers and students in damage suits; expenses of litigation(b) In addition to the protection provided under subsection..........In the event such member, teacher or other employee has a judgment entered against him for a malicious, wanton or wilful act in a court of law, such board of education or charter school shall be reimbursed by such member, teacher or other employee for expenses it incurred in providing such defense and shall not be held liable to such member, teacher or other employee for any financial loss or expense resulting from such act.
Susan McGuinness Getzinger June 12, 2011 at 04:43 AM
http://www.cga.ct.gov/2009/pub/chap004.htm#Sec1-25.htm FOR ALL OTHER PERSONS OF WHOM AN OATH IS REQUIRED. (Board of Education members) You solemnly swear or solemnly and sincerely affirm, as the case may be, that you will faithfully discharge, according to law, your duties as .... to the best of your abilities; so help you God or upon penalty of perjury. Sec. 1-25. Forms of oaths. The forms of oaths shall be as follows, to wit: FOR ATTORNEYS. You solemnly swear or solemnly and sincerely affirm, as the case may be, that you will do nothing dishonest, and will not knowingly allow anything dishonest to be done in court, and that you will inform the court of any dishonesty of which you have knowledge; that you will not knowingly maintain or assist in maintaining any cause of action that is false or unlawful; that you will not obstruct any cause of action for personal gain or malice; but that you will exercise the office of attorney, in any court in which you may practice, according to the best of your learning and judgment, faithfully, to both your client and the court; so help you God or upon penalty of perjury.
robin fitzgerald June 12, 2011 at 05:36 AM
Now don't beat me up for this suggestion, but the O/Os should form a Co-Op, elect officers to run the business end and each O/O pays a small dues set by the executive board to become a member. The members vote on all decisions. This can be a positive, not only for allowing them to negotiate with the BOE as one entity, but for any other thing they use such as maintenance service, insurance, tires, supplies, etc. I really don't understand why having all the individual contracts is so important. If coming together as a group allows them to preserve their ability to work for themselves, wouldn't it be the best thing to do? The BOE is doing the due diligence required by the taxpayers, the LC and the BOF.
Susan McGuinness Getzinger June 12, 2011 at 05:41 AM
http://www.newtown.k12.ct.us/site/files/3-701.pdf C. Limits of Transportation The maximum walking distance from a pupil's property entrance way to the bus pick- up point or to school is as follows: Grades K-8: 1 mile Grades 9-12: 1 1/2 miles Exceptions to the walking distance limits to a school or a designated school bus pick- up point will be considered under the following condition 1. Physical disability limitations 2. Unusual conditions or hazards along walking location to a designated bus stop. Adopted 4/28/59 Updated 2/12/02 D. Loading and Unloading First consideration shall be given to the safety of the pupils when establishing bus stops, loading and unloading buses, and in all other phases of school bus transportation. Supervision for loading and unloading buses will be provided under the direction of the building principals at the elementary schools, the 5/6 school, and the middle school. The high school will only provide supervision for loading buses. Adopted 4/28/59 Updated 11/11/75, 5/10/88, 10/10/95, 2/12/02 E. Picking Up and Discharging Passengers Bus routes will be designed to pick up and discharge children in a safe and appropriate manner. Adopted 4/28/59 Updated 11/11/75, 5/10/88, 10/10/95, 2/12/02 III. BUS SAFETY A. Safety Rules for Drivers 1. When a bus is on school property and children are present, the driver will not back up a bus until the children are supervised by an adult.
Dawne Kornhaas June 12, 2011 at 12:16 PM
I have a question. If the MS and RIS (i am getting better at these acronyms) were on the same schedule instead of the MS and HS, would that help with reducing the 3 tier bus system?
Caren Wellman June 12, 2011 at 12:35 PM
Debbie Leidlein suggested the bid be modified so the O/O did not have to bond. Did any other BOE representatives try to level the playing field so the O/O could compete?
Carey Schierloh June 12, 2011 at 12:35 PM
Mike, one BOE member did ask that the bond requirement be removed from the O/O, but was told no. From the Bee: Board of Education Vice Chair Debbie Leidlein questioned what a performance bond was and why it was added to the bid announcement for the contract. Ms Leidlein said the bid specifications could eliminate the current transportation system, "which is beloved in our town," and asked why the owner-operators would be asked to provide the performance bond.
Mike Kelley June 12, 2011 at 12:39 PM
Thanks for the clarification Carey. Mrs. Leidlein is once again trying to do the right thing.
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com June 12, 2011 at 01:02 PM
Mike have you read the RFP?
Hoa Nguyen June 12, 2011 at 01:16 PM
One thing that was brought up at the BOE meeting (see above article) by Andy Buzzi was that even if there is a requirement for a performance bond, if a bidder were to fall short of that or other requirements, the BOE would be within its authority to evaluate the bid and accept it, if it deemed that bid to be the best one for the district.
Susan McGuinness Getzinger June 12, 2011 at 01:17 PM
Yes, you are right, so the BOE should do there job and ask her to step down for not abiding by policy and her contract. They are not doing that. I have repeatedly asked for a review of my two cases, but deaf ears. The three BOE members that did not comply with policy, procedure or CT Law (including DMV) I have asked to step down, since they are not going by the oath to do their job according to correct procedure. They were non compliant in my transportation case. Mr. Hart in a Patch article last week (?) said that the bus should never have gone down our road, but he did not sight what that was based on- while at my hearing, he ignored all policies and procedures and that fact that I allege the Superintendent discriminated against our children by odering the driver to not stop as she passed us. Since the three BOE members were non compliant, they are not guaranteed protection under the law re: liability becasue, though they would be if they were in the role of BOE is compliant, going agaisnt the rules takes away there protection from not only my case but any in the state, since they haven't yet disclosed to other districts that the hearing officers (both) in my cases were not impartial and out of subject matter jurisdiction. My olive branches are about to snap!
Susan McGuinness Getzinger June 12, 2011 at 01:22 PM
I wrote to the SDE Legal affairs div. last night and here is part of that letter: At my initial hearing with my local BOE, the three members hearing the case did not comply with: 1) The ten days of having the hearing or (initially wrote a request in Sept, 2009 and again Dec. 6th, 2009, only to have the hearing January 20, 2010, which the Superintendent tried to postpone, but I refused) 2) Rendering an acceptable decision within the allotted ten days, (Decision was not accepted by you when you received it on February 16, 2010) 3) The burden of proof, (none offered) 4) They had no preponderance of evidence, (but I did) 5) No transcript, though I did ask them for one in writing, the Superintendent said they did not have to provide one. (I have that in writing)
Susan McGuinness Getzinger June 12, 2011 at 01:30 PM
“The board of education shall, upon request, provide such person with a transcript of the hearing within thirty days of such request and such person may take appeal within 20 days of the mailing of the findings of the board of education there from to the State Board of Education; and The board of educations hall hold a hearing within ten days of receipt of a written request by such person and the party claiming ineligibility for school accommodations shall have the burden of proving such ineligibility by a preponderance of the evidence. The board of education shall render a written finding within ten days after such hearing;” http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/pdf/legal/workshop_package.pdf Atty. of the SDE Legal Affairs Division, did not accept the BOE’s “Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law” because they didn't have either Findings of Fact OR Conclusions of law. The BOE Atty. submitted his driveby decision late and non compliant to the SDE Div. of Legal Affairs on February 16, 2010. I had to ask the SDE for a copy, because I didn't get this gem that didn't even have a date on it, yet we were billed for it. The SDE Atty. informed Atty. Dugas that the decision did not contain any “Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law”. I received my copy from the SDE on February 22, 2010, not ten days after January 20, 2010.
Susan McGuinness Getzinger June 12, 2011 at 01:50 PM
Yes, HOA, but since they haven't been compliant at the BOE and Administration on so many other issues (my two cases alone poses several alleged violations), many of us are concerned that they won't be compliant to procedure and law in this instance either. They have been outside their authority and now have lost trust with several members of the electorate, including myself, though I have bent over backwards asking for reviews in my cases to no avail, trying to avoid an ugly lawsuits and ethics proceedings.
Mike Kelley June 12, 2011 at 09:30 PM
Yes.
Mike Kelley June 14, 2011 at 07:46 PM
Hoa; Not sure where this should be posted so I am putting it here. Another example of how the Owner Operators contribute to the town. Hope everyone will bring something over to the VFW for our Troops deployed. Nancy Crofut, Bus 29, is working with the VFW to send packages to Newtown residents on active duty in the Middle East. If you would like to donate items or know of a Newtown resident serving in the military in the Middle East, contact the VFW. Items greatly appreciated by our service people are toiletries such as soap, razors, toothpaste, shampoo. Non-perishable snacks, books and CD's, baby wipes. VFW # is 426-9316
Sue Vogelman June 16, 2011 at 06:57 PM
Why have I not heard about the safety of children in "the cost" analysis? Have you looked at the number of safety incidents in our state and across the country from those major bus companies? Children being abused, molested, forgotten, unsafe buses, drug addicts driving our children - I'm not making this up. Do the research - it only took me about 5 minutes to find all kinds of data and articles on the unsafeness of large company bus systems. http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=news/local&id=7318188 http://www.wfsb.com/news/22318827/detail.html http://apps.itd.idaho.gov/apps/MediaManagerViewer/NewsClipping/Story.aspx?ID=46881&Type=NewsClipping http://www.ct.gov/dmv/cwp/view.asp?Q=456720&A=798 One of these links alone shows you how many buses were operating with unsafe equipment - like brakes!!! Our bus drivers own their buses - they take care of them because it is their own business and is their livelihood and they CARE about our children. This should be taken into account on all decision levels. It costs a whole lot more than a million dollars when a child is HURT through a care-less system than it would to continue to wonderful care-ing system we have now. Check it out for yourself and I urge the administration to do so as well before making a mistake that cannot be repaired. A child's life is worth more than any millions of dollars.
Sam Mihailoff June 16, 2011 at 07:47 PM
when "Little Johnny" gets dropped off at the wrong stop or falls asleep and nobody checks the bus to see if it is empty, and "Little Johnny" is discovered hours later; cold, crying, and fearful...let's see how that factors into the "structural changes", especially when "Little Johnny's" parents give a call to their attorney
Mom June 19, 2011 at 12:53 AM
http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/newtownowneroperators/signatures a petition to keep our drivers. Please sign!
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com June 19, 2011 at 04:11 PM
Mom: This petition is counter productive. Everyone likes the O/O system, the bid is about getting a reasonable fee for the service, not about getting rid of the system. . Trying to negotiate this agreement this way is counter productive and perhaps self serving as we don't know who this blogger is.
Mom June 19, 2011 at 04:58 PM
Intersting point. As far as I know the person who started the petition is not an owner of a bus. It seems to me it is just a way to support the o/o system, not much different than a petition door to door.
Mike Kelley June 21, 2011 at 11:34 PM
Bruce; If you need a copy of the RFP, they are available at Town Hall. Not sure what the charge is.

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