To the Editor:
After studying the TransPar-School Bus Consultants transportation audit it seems there is a lot of information that would be confusing to some people but myself being someone that has spent many hundreds of hours studying not only our system but other systems as well, I can say there are some things that should be pointed out and there are some conclusions that are easy to make.
One obvious take away is that our system is grossly underpaid.
One point made in this audit is that our drivers run an average of 25 percent longer than the average district.
If you go to page 10 of the assessment, there is a recommendation for compensation due to the longer run time our operators endure, which would reflect a 9.25 percent increase in cost per day. This recommendation is separate from the other recommendations and facts.
Also, on page 9 we find in the first sentence below the table 2 illustration that the Ava contractors are paid between 12-30 percent lower than districts with similar characteristics.
On page 8, we find the sentence that overhead costs for Ava contractors are 20-25 percent lower when compared to traditional contractors.
Well, of course it’s less when most of the contractors perform duties themselves such as inspections, cleaning, maintenance, repairs, taking calls from parents, scheduling substitute drivers, etc.
That doesn’t mean the time they put into these duties should not be compensated for.
Some people want to see newer buses.
Yes, it would be nice to see newer buses – but what would that cost be?
One of the reasons the overhead cost of our contracted operators is lower is because most of them can work on their buses themselves and the rest can have local garages work on them.
New buses have much more technology and require operators to travel to larger towns such as Springfield just to hook them to a computer for a price up to three hundred dollars just to tell the operator what’s wrong with their bus.
Repairs would require dealer involvement, doing the repair and adjustments with computer software after the part is replaced costing the operator up to 1000 percent more for a repair the operator can make on his own bus that is older.
The Ava district contractors have always had a very good report on breakdowns and bus safety so the only reason people would like to see newer buses would have to be cosmetic more than anything else.
Like I said, new buses would be great – but at what cost? The transportation assessment does address the older bus issue and it does make a recommendation to move towards newer buses, but it also states that the contractor’s rates would require another 8-11 percent increase.
That increase along with the other recommended increases could realistically put the total increase needed at 40 to 45 percent.
So, you might be thinking “Wow, how did the transportation system get into this situation?”
Well, I can tell you that not giving pay increases to a system that’s already behind doesn’t help the situation at all.
Past administrations and the most guilty, the elected school board, along with the likes of so-called prominent town folk spreading lies and using malicious misinformation to mislead good people in our district to believe that the operators were making between eighty and a hundred dollars an hour and becoming rich while stealing money from the taxpayer.
Folks, like I said, I have put many hours into looking into everything and I can tell you there was never stealing going on.
I know there are people that will argue otherwise and when I have tried to explain how the old system paid contractors decades ago was much different with how the present day system works not to mention lack of enforcement or even good policy of how some of the administrations wanted the system to work. It caused confusion.
It wasn’t hard to fix the system, it just took some people who knew how to negotiate the situation and fix the concerns of the board and administration. I can assure you the system was fixed but now we still have board members that want the system gone at any cost so those members continue to make decisions to try and run our present transportation system out of business with mistruths and other methods such as not giving raises.
Those same board members do not want to listen, I have been giving them hard accurate facts for over three years and they either don’t listen because of ignorance or they just want the system gone even if it will cost double to replace it, even knowing safety will decrease.
I started pushing for an audit some time ago as I decided at that time that the system cannot sustain itself for many more years without change.
I had people come to me and ask, “Do you really think the audit will find what you’re saying?” I would tell them “Yes, if the audit is independent it will find that the system is underpaid.
So here we are today with information from an independent audit showing a system that is due a good amount of compensation.
Yes, it will cost some money but what’s the alternative? Dissolving the system and putting one in place that costs over double – like other comparable districts to please a few people that hate the contractors and the system or those that just want to see newer buses?
Well, I guess that’s for the board to decide and I hope that the people that have put their trust in these board members will call and let them know their wishes – whatever they may be.
I have gotten to know many of the drivers and I can say they care about the school children in this district and they look out for them and go up and above the requirements of what a so-called traditional bus operator is expected to do.
I can say they drive our rough roads every day and they know the roads like the back of their hand, and they know when bad weather strikes just what to look out for on their route.
So why would we not take care of them? Why would we not have appreciation for our bus drivers? Why would we not treat them with respect? Why would we not compensate them for the duties they perform?
In conclusion, the reason that things were in such a mess a few years ago is because of mistreatment by the administration and board, and their inability to negotiate and fix problems.
The problems were fixed and now we have the same problems even after a transportation audit that shows the board what state the system is presently in and gives some guidelines on how to fix it.
(Editor’s note – the complete Transpar-School Bus Consultant audit can be downloaded at: tinyurl.com/ava-bus-audit.)