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Letter: Questions About School District Transportation Costs

On Dec. 15, residents will vote on a bond to purchase school buses that will enable the Manhasset School District to operate their own bus company, once again. A thorough review of the district’s prior history in operating a bus company should be explored before residents vote for this bond. By 2005, the last year the Manhasset District operated their own bus company, there were several ongoing issues:

• Manhasset transportation costs were significantly higher than private operators. On average, the district transportation costs had increased 6.1 percent every year for 10 years.

• Manhasset bus drivers were employed full time costing the district millions of dollars more than comparable districts that employed many drivers on a part-time basis. The district employed eight drivers who shared 3.5 authorized full-time positions.

• Manhasset bus drivers were entitled to unlimited sick days resulting in an extraordinarily high absentee rate, which, in turn, resulted in scheduling problems and extra expense.

• Manhasset bus drivers were allotted overtime on a seniority basis, forcing Manhasset student-athletes to wait until senior drivers returned from their regular routes before being transported to sports events. As a result, teams were late to matches and games were forfeited. Often, athletes were unable to warm up before matches, which presented a risk factor.

• The district budgeted 35 percent overtime for bus drivers, which demonstrated a significant lack of management.

• Owning and maintaining a district bus fleet was estimated to range between $400,000 and $500,000 annually.

• Gasoline tanks and other environmental hazards were stored in the Manhasset bus garage.

Although many bus drivers were conscientious and diligent, unfortunately, they were represented by a union that refused to budge and an incompetent district that could not properly manage. If the district returns to the bus business, residents can expect an aggravation of acrimonious relations between the district and the bus drivers union with students caught in between. On Dec. 15, residents should vote no on the bond issue to purchase new buses. Without buses, the union and the district will be forced to negotiate an end to this crisis.

However, responsibility for the crisis should be explored. Residents voted to outsource busing in 2005 based on information and projected savings data provided by the district. Who were the lawyers who recommended the “proper procedures” for outsourcing buses and how much were they paid? Who were the board members who signed off on the “proper procedure” for outsourcing buses and were those procedures carefully followed? If proper procedure was not recommended nor followed shouldn’t those responsible be held financially liable? Why should Manhasset residents be responsible for this fiasco? Many residents have been asking the Manhasset educational establishment these questions and have gotten no answers, as yet.

Laurann Pandelakis