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Proposed school bus outsourcing study is focus of Preston meeting

By Julianne Hanckel

Publication: The Day

Published April 30. 2010 4:00AM

Preston - At a special town meeting Thursday, 75 concerned residents gathered to discuss the Board of Education's decision to conduct a feasibility study on the outsourcing of school buses for the 2010-11 school year.

The meeting presented a chance for 13 bus drivers to introduce themselves and explain their concerns about the plan to outsource the buses.

The drivers' overwhelming concern was the loss of the personal connection many have formed with the children and their families.

Charlotte Fenton, president of the union chapter for Preston school bus drivers, has been driving Preston children for 33 years. She said outsourcing the buses to another contractor would result in poor service, both professionally and personally.

"I represent 18 drivers who work for the town. This is the same as 2005. None of us were for outsourcing the buses then, and none of us are for outsourcing the buses now," Fenton said.

In 2005, the town bonded $1.9 million for a group of capital projects that included the buses and spent $698,000 to buy new buses. The town has 10 years to go on the 15-year bond on the buses and $580,000 in remaining bonds to pay, First Selectmen Bob Congdon said during the meeting.

Congdon said he supported keeping the bus services in town five years ago. "I thought we made a 15-year commitment when we bought the buses five years ago," Congdon said.

"No private nongovernment agency can borrow money as inexpensively as the town can. Any contractor going to bond the buses is going to have to do it more expensively than we can," he said.

He explained that the only savings coming from outsourcing the buses would be on the management side and that management comes from the Board of Education.

In the feasibility study, the Board of Education gives contractors three options: to bring their own buses, buy the buses from the town or lease the buses.

The study, which has cost about $3,200 to date, will be disseminated to four or more contractors to determine "Whether it's feasible to do a feasibility study," Superintendent John Welch said.

Welch said after the study is reviewed, answers from the contractors may show that there will be no savings if the buses are contracted out.

The Rev. David L. Cannon, whose wife, Ann-etta Cannon, served on the Board of Education for 26 years said, "Are we going to completely revise and destroy an effective and compassionate system just to save a few bucks? Is this about money or something else?"

On Monday, during the first transportation subcommittee meeting Welch said, "We're just trying to gather data and test the waters to get the ability to understand whether it's worthwhile to submit a request for proposals."

Patti Daniels has also been driving a bus in Preston for 33 years. "I probably have driven half of the people in this room," Daniels said.

"When people get on the bus and say 'hey, you drove my grandmother to school,' I think it's time to think about stopping, but that time has come and gone," she added.

The room erupted into applause.

Residents noted the absence of all but one member of the Board of Education.

Congdon suggested residents attend the next Board of Education meeting on May 10.

j.hanckel@theday.com

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