Web exclusive, January 7, 2011
Schedules, fuel costs cause headache for school transportation provider
by Colin Powell
When Andrea Brown bid on a contract with CSD 13 to provide transportation for 11 Island high school students earlier this year, fuel was nearly a dollar less expensive, and the full needs of some of the students were unknown. At the school board’s December 7 meeting, Brown asked the board to consider additional compensation, as the unknown costs are eating into her living wage.
Superintendent Bob Webster explained to the board that the contract with Brown includes a clause that allows costs to be renegotiated if gas rises above $3.20 per gallon. While fuel has not hit that level yet, he said the price is close enough that the board could reopen negotiations without being breaching the contract.
After a long discussion with Brown, the board found that while the cost of fuel is rising, the biggest issue is the time it takes for one of the students, who goes to a school in the Ellsworth area, to get ready. Webster said the student has special needs, and that there is likely no way to constrain the student to be ready on time, as the student’s behavior is unpredictable. Brown said the late start to Ellsworth means she has had to increase her fleet to three vehicles, increasing her costs significantly. The board discussed ways to reduce Brown’s fleet to two vehicles. Chairman Andrew Vaughn asked Brown and Webster to come up with a concrete proposal for getting all the students to their respective schools on time, and to include a cost increase if necessary.
The board considered a proposal from Webster to bid the school’s financial services next year. The issue came up when the school district needed to obtain a line of credit with a local bank because of a potential budget overrun related to a lack of state payments for the elementary school debt service. While the school has not, and at this rate probably will not, have to use the credit, the experience brought up the idea of having a competitive bid process for the school’s financial accounts, Webster said. Vaughn said bidding financial service contracts is a good idea and proposed having three-year contracts with the option to extend them once. Vaughn also proposed requiring a bid process every six years. Webster said he would contact other superintendents for examples of proposal requests.
Next, Webster pointed out that the school district is in the last year of its strategic plan and opened a discussion on how the board would like to proceed. Mentioning Sedgwick’s recent community survey, he proposed the board look at getting good community participation using a similar process. Sedgwick mailed surveys out to the whole community and, after gathering the information together, will be using it to help guide its current strategic planning process.
In action items, the board unanimously approved a grant, announced at the November meeting, from the Benwood Foundation for $5,000 to allow the Reach Performing Arts Center’s Nelson Monteith to collaborate with Brooklin resident Paul Sullivan on an original musical in the spring. The board unanimously approved a leave of absence extension for teacher Jennifer MacDonald until January 21. Webster explained that this would be unpaid leave and would place the transition from long-term substitute Christie Astbury to MacDonald in between semesters instead of in the middle of the current semester.
A school improvement plan for the elementary school was tabled for the second straight meeting after board member Mark Cormier expressed concern over a lack of quality assessments in math. The plan will be an action item on the board’s January agenda.
The board also approved (5-0-1, Sargent) unpaid leave for a teacher in February. Webster explained that school policy prohibits teachers from using their vacation time during the school year, with the thought that there are numerous vacations during the year and summer break when teachers can take time off without disrupting the school year. He recommended approving the request for time off with the stipulation that the leave be unpaid.