The Board of Education Monday met with a consultant hired by the administration to work out the district’s new busing contract.
Educators have long been eager to ditch the current contract, which was extended years ago in the midst of a budget crunch to save money in the short term, said Board of Education Chairman Austin Drukker.
“I was pretty much a rookie at the time,” he said recalling the contract agreed to by a past school board under a different administration. “It was a short-term fix,” he said.
“We renegotiated the contract with much less favorable terms,” he said, adding the strategy of gradually increasing rates “kind of robbed Peter to pay Paul hoping that things would get better and it didn’t,” he said.
As a result, the district is paying more than most of its Fairfield County peers, said District Business Manager Paul Hendrickson.
Extending the contract would cost around $22.5 million over five years at the current rates, he said in introducing Mark Walsh of Transportation Advisory Services (TAS) who has been retained to aid the district in navigating a new contract from start to finish.
TAS will receive $11,000, which Mr. Hendrickson said can be taken out of a $25,000 reduction in the district’s annual payment to MIRMA — an insurance pool that failed and left the town with a hefty bill.
Mr. Hendrickson said Mr. Walsh has 25 years experience and came highly recommended by administrators in other area towns. “Unilaterally they agreed that Mark was the best,” he said.
Part of the process involves determining what the district needs, and possibly identifying things it doesn’t need.
He gave an example of an odd item he found in the district’s current arrangement, calling for all buses to have at least 190 horsepower.
“I haven’t got a clue why you did that. If it’s got 189 horsepower, do I care? No, I don’t care,” he said.
He said the bid specs will be considered a “baseline” requirement, which bidders might offer to exceed.
For instance, he said, the district might require that buses be no older than 10 years with an average age of six years, but a contract might offer a brand new fleet, but the cost would be reflected in the bid price.
Mr. Walsh said it’s likely the current bus company will want to compete to keep the contract, and regardless of whether they win, there is usually little turnover among bus drivers because union contracts and a demand for drivers.
“There’s typically very little turnover,” he said, adding that the bus company might be more likely to keep its mechanics and management staff.
The new contract could be awarded by December, according to a preliminary timeline proposed by Mr. Walsh.