There have been meetings aplenty, with more to come, on whether Warren County School’s transportation system will be privatized.
After making a surprise proposal to take over the school system buses at the County Commission’s regular meeting Monday night, which received almost unanimous support by a call of hands, the meeting went into recess so it could reconvene Monday night to present a resolution to the full commission for a vote. That resolution would then be presented to the School Board, which could conceivably vote on it at its regular monthly meeting Thursday.
In order to draft the resolution, the county has scheduled a special meeting of the Education Committee in the conference room of the County Administration Building this afternoon at 4 p.m., according to County Executive John Pelham.
Pelham says he plans to make an effort to meet with Director of Schools Dr. Jerry Hale and county attorney Larry Stanley today to work on the document.
“We’re calling the Education Committee meeting to review this resolution before Monday night,” Pelham said. “So the Education Committee has an opportunity to review it and see if there are any changes that need to be made.
Pelham has been leery of privatizing the transportation system since he was informed of the possibility late last month. Both he and most commissioners seem to feel the move will cost the county money, rather than offer a savings.
The School Board held a called meeting Wednesday night where it discussed the three proposals offered so far, one from Durham School Services, which would privatize the system, another from current transportation director Melissa Orrick, which would keep transportation within the school system, and the tentative proposal from the county to take over school transportation, which, as was pointed out, has not been formally drafted.
Hale says no decision will be made until the School Board has a chance to look at the county’s proposal, but noted the board has been impressed with Durham’s success in other systems and does feel the company can save money, which he says has been the School Board’s goal from the start.
“The meeting Wednesday night was a fact-gathering thing, and I’m sure the board is eager to hear the resolution the commission is going to present,” Hale said. “And I guess the board will make a decision next week. That’s all we can really say right now.”
School Board member Michael Adamson, who chairs the board’s Transportation Committee, says the board’s motives are to make the system more efficient, without cutting services.
“We’re actually looking to save money in the budget for the county,” Adamson said. “We’re just looking for a way to save taxpayers money. We’re not wanting to short-change the students in any way. We want to make sure they have the very best.”
Adamson does have one concern as far as choosing between Durham and the county, and that is where any savings would be utilized.
“The thing is, with us looking at Durham, we are looking to save a substantial amount of money,” Adamson said. “That money could be used toward other things, like fixing up buildings that need renovation, or adding things to the classrooms.
“We had first thought about putting it into escrow in case we needed to take this back over and buy buses,” he added. “But now what we’re looking at is if we can generate that savings through Durham and keep it, then we can be able to further other projects.”
Adamson pointed out if the school system goes with Durham, any BEP transportation funds saved would go to the school system, but if the county takes over, and the School Board turns over the BEP money, he wonders if the savings would then go to the county.
“My thing is where are we going to use the money we save and what’s best for the school system,” Adamson said. “I personally wouldn’t mind giving the county the option to do this, if they can still provide at least what we’re providing now or more.”
Adamson says he will have to see the county’s proposal at the meeting scheduled for Monday night before he can make an informed decision.
“We’ll have to wait until we can see the resolution,” Adamson said. “I don’t know if there will be any savings by going with the county versus Durham for the taxpayers. I haven’t seen the county’s proposal, but some of the things that Durham brings to the table versus us or the county, I don’t know if the county can provide.
“Durham can bring a lower premium insurance to the drivers, they can bring a 401(k) plan to our drivers, they can look at the routing system. They’ve just got so much more they can offer that we can’t really afford to offer and still give them the very best of service for the school system and help our drivers as well. It seems like a win-win to me.”
However, County Commissioner Gary Prater, who, with Commissioner Joel Akers, attended the School Board meeting Wednesday night, disagrees after listening to the contract proposal from Durham School Services.
“I don’t think there’s any way Durham is going to save anybody any money,” Prater said. “There’s no way we can give them the buses for a dollar, the barn for a dollar, pay them $124 per day per bus, per route and then buy their diesel fuel and us save money. It doesn’t make sense.”
Prater says he feels the School Board should have made an effort to work with current transportation director Melissa Orrick before deciding to privatize.
“I don’t think it’s as much the transportation director’s fault as it is the School Board’s,” Prater said. “If there was a problem, it should have been taken care of before it got this far.”
Prater feels things should remain as they are, rather than privatizing or having the county take it over.
“They need to work on saving money from within the department,” Prater said.