Greencastle-Antrim school bus drivers get apology

JOYCE F. NOWELL, Echo Pilot

An apology has been issued to the Greencastle-Antrim School District bus drivers over information shared prior to a vote on contracting out one of the routes.

Bus drivers came to the March 7 school board meeting concerned and confused. They were concerned that the board was considering using a bus contractor to complete the remainder of the school year for one of the routes where substitutes had been being used. They were concerned that this may lead to further contracting in the future. They were confused that they were given a memo the morning prior to meeting that explained the board’s vote to contract the route.

On March 13 Brian Hissong, board president, issued an apology memo, saying the original memo was meant to answer questions and concerns the board had received from bus drivers questioning the outsourcing of the R2 route. He said it was mistakenly given out prior to the meeting. “The memo you received was written to provide you with the answers to your questions if the move was approved,” Hissong wrote. “Obviously, if the move was not approved, no follow up information would be necessary.”

The original memo discussed the difficulty the board faces in forming a 2013-14 budget that currently has a $1.4 million deficit. It said, “Over the last several years G-ASD has increased real estate taxes, cut classroom supplies, reduced three administration positions and delayed much needed building and infrastructure renovations. Also, while student enrollment has increased, the number of teachers has not, which in turn increased class sizes across all grades and buildings.”

In his apology memo, Hissong said that the board asked the administration, specifically business manager, Jolinda Wilson, to look at outsourcing R2. He reiterated, “We are looking at a very difficult budget process. Again, the board is and will continue to look at all avenues to reduce expenditures.”

R-2 outsourcing

On March 7 the board approved the contracting of the R2 route with Keifman Busing of Chambersburg at a rate of $150 per day. Under the contract, the vendor will use district-purchased fuel. The district currently pays $3.4806 per gallon for diesel fuel.

Officials did not say at the March 7 meeting what is the current cost of operating the route. A spokesperson for the drivers, Jackie Simmons, noted that the substitutes are paid $9.25 per hour and the run is five hours per day. Substitutes do not receive benefits.

Last week Hissong said that the board considered an all-encompassing analysis comparing the cost to fill the position, provide benefits, lease and maintain a bus. “The costs were also considered using a multi-year approach.”

In the spring of 2012 the board floated the idea of contracting its transportation services. At that time the numbers showed it was more cost effective to keep the bus services in house. The board opted against contracting. Hissong now said, “Looking at expenses at three years out changes the look of many things.”

Hissong said the R2 driver position became vacant Jan. 4 and it was after a board meeting that day that the board directed the business manager to prepare a bid solicitation for the R2 route. “With the upcoming budget in mind, the board wanted to take the opportunity to look at all possibilities for controlling costs.”

The district bus drivers had sought a meeting with the administration to discuss the issue, but said they got no response. Hissong said the drivers were told that the board was looking at outsourcing the R2 route, but had not talked about any other outsourcing at that time. He said that since that’s all the information the administration had they could not provide any other answers and a meeting wasn’t necessary.

Hissong concluded his memo of March 12 as follows, “We appreciate the work that you do for our children. Decisions such as this one isn’t (sic) easy as we try to help the school district and its 3,000 plus students move forward.”