Schools weigh staying in bus business
MV Times file photo
After assuming responsibility for school bus service on a trial basis a month ago, the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School district committee and the up-Island regional school committee will now consider a recommendation to continue to run the service for the remainder of the school year.
Last week, the all-Island transportation subcommittee voted 5-2 to recommend to the school boards that they continue to run service themselves.
The high school and the up-Island school committees are scheduled to hold a joint emergency meeting on Tuesday, October 11 to discuss the recommendation. The meeting is to begin at 7:30 pm in the library conference room at the high school.
The Vineyard school system has been in the transportation business since the start of the school on September 7. The move came after MV Coachlines abruptly backed out of its transportation contract with the Island school districts.
In a letter sent to James Weiss, Vineyard superintendent of schools, MV Coachlines's president said that he could not fulfill the terms of his contract because he was unable to find enough bus drivers to work for him. In the weeks leading up to the announcement, bus drivers employed by MV Coachlines had criticized MV Coachlines on several issues, including complaints of unpaid bonuses and poor working conditions.
Instead of turning the service over to the only other bus company that had bid on the contract, Island Transport Inc., the school committees voted to take on the responsibility of bus service themselves, at least on an interim basis.
Edgartown School, which already operated its bus system, was not affected by the change. Both the Oak Bluffs and Tisbury elementary schools are included in the regional bus contract.
At the all-Island transportation subcommittee meeting on Sept. 30, Mr. Weiss said that the school has been able to run the service for the last month with "a minimum of difficulty," according to the draft minutes of the meeting. He thanked the drivers, who agreed to drive for the school, at least for the first six weeks of the school year, for helping to make the transition.
Mr. Weiss also discussed some of the measures that still need to be addressed if the school decides to continue to manage the bus service. The issues included establishing and managing the bus routes, implementing a drug-testing program for drivers, and securing the necessary insurance.
Cost also became a focus of the discussion at last week's meeting. Amy Tierney, assistant to the superintendent for business affairs, presented a working draft of the estimated expenses.
While she stressed that the numbers are still just preliminary estimates, in a conversations with The Times this week, Ms. Tierney said that she expects that it would cost the school about the same amount of money to run the bus service itself, as it would to hire an outside company to do it.
In total, she estimated that it would cost approximately $1,281,503 for the school to run the bus service. The school currently has $1,498,832 budgeted for transportation. Those figures do not include reimbursements, which include $863,732 in Chapter 71 transportation funds from the state.
After state funding and all other potential funding is included, Ms. Tierney estimated that the schools will pay $53,681 above currently anticipated revenue, but stressed that the amount could change as the school continues to develop its plans.
In comparison, the school would have paid MV Coachlines $939,600 to run the bus service. However, the school would have leased its buses to the company for a gain of $365,000. The school would also still receive the reimbursement money from the state.
Ms. Tierney said that the private bus operators did not cover all of the transportation expenses. She said that the school would have still been responsible for about $670,000 in expenses if it hired another vendor to run the service. Those costs include items such as fuel ($129,000), special education transportation ($126,060), debt service on the buses ($218,231), and the maintenance contract with the Vineyard Transit Authority ($80,833).