Warren County government made a surprise offer to take over the Warren County School System bus service at the commission meeting Monday night.
If accepted by the School Board, the action would put an end to plans to privatize the bus system by signing a three-year contract with Durham School Services.
County Executive John Pelham presented the plan at the close of regular business, asking commissioners to make an informal, non-binding vote of support for the move with a show of hands. The court then went into recess, rather than adjourning, so it could meet again Monday night to formally vote on drafting a resolution after the School Board meets to make a decision on whether to accept the offer.
“What I’m referencing is the matter of our school buses here in the county,” Pelham said. “And the discussion that we’re all aware of that has been going on for a few weeks about the possibility of our transportation service being privatized.
“I would like to respectfully submit to the County Court tonight the possibility, with your approval, of an additional option being presented to our Director of Schools and our School Board members they have not had for consideration. And that option being for the Warren County Commission to take over the transportation services for our county school system.”
Pelham then outlined the county’s proposal, noting that for the 2011-12 school year the county would operate the transportation system in partnership with the school system as a learning experience. He also said administration of the system would fall under the Education Committee, but noted possibly more than one committee would be involved.
Pelham said the county would determine later whether the takeover would begin at the end of the 2011-12 school year or the beginning of the 2012-13 school year. He also noted as part of the agreement the school system would be required to turn over it’s BEP funds for transportation, along with the buses and the bus shed and equipment, to the county once the proposed resolution is approved.
In his presentation, Pelham proposed another idea to commissioners. The possibility of a central garage for the county has been a point of discussion for some time, and Pelham obviously felt this was the perfect opportunity to implement this idea.
“We would also like the County Court to consider that we would utilize the bus transportation building as not only the building for service and maintenance of the school buses, but also, if you will, as a county garage,” Pelham said. “That we could utilize not only for the school buses, but also for the Sheriff’s Department, the Ambulance Service and county vehicles in general.”
Although the day-to-day operation of the system, including ownership, maintenance and purchasing of buses would fall to the county, Pelham said one aspect would remain the responsibility of the school system.
“We have spoken in detail about how disciplinary matters could be handled,” Pelham said. “And we have asked that those would still go through the school system.”
Pelham has questioned the move toward privatization of the bus system since it came out late last month. In fact at the monthly School Board meeting, held at Dibrell School April 28, Pelham asked the School Board to hold off on voting on the contract with Durham for three weeks to give the county time to study the issue.
At that meeting, School Board member Bill Zechman made a motion to hold a called meeting tonight to discuss the Durham proposal to privatize, but not to actually vote on the contract.
However, due to the county’s counter-proposal Monday, Hale says the meeting will now include discussion on the county’s proposal, the Durham proposal and even a third counter-proposal submitted by current transportation director Melissa Orrick.
Hale says he doesn’t know how the School Board will react to the surprise offer, though three of the members, Bill Zechman, Jeff Lee and Mike Adamson, were in attendance Monday night.
“The board will look at this and consider it at the meeting,” Hale said. “But I really can’t give you an answer until they actually vote.”