The Kings Park School District is looking into the possibility of using an outside company to provide busing to its students.
School superintendent Susan Agruso presented some pros and cons of making the switch to a packed room at the Tuesday evening board meeting.
“This is a big issue. It is not something that can be decided in one presentation. We are beginning to look,” Agruso said to the room. “No decisions have been made. We are nowhere near having the board make such a decision.”
Agruso outlined benefits of using an outside service, which included a potential large cost savings.
“It’s why we are having the conversation. We would save money with contract busing,” she said. According to Agruso the biggest savings would come in the first year and says that the district is already looking at a $1 million budget gap.
Employees of the school’s transportation department are members of the Civil Service Employee Association. Agruso says the contract under which they work is one of the most challenging to digest and administer.
“It uses unclear language, side agreements. It is convoluted and difficult,” said Agruso who says significant staff time is used to monitor the contract.
Contract busing is not without its challenges. According to Agruso, a good amount of preparation must be done up front before contracting with a company and there is less flexibility overall once the company is contracted.
Currently, the transportation department has 47 bus drivers and a total budget in excess of $4.3 million, with salaries and benefits making up the bulk of that number.
Rebecca Sobotkin, president of the Kings Park CSEA addressed the board and said the savings would be a one-time fix.
“There are things sometimes that are more important than money,” said Sobotkin.
It is a sensitive issue for a town that has provided its own busing from the very beginning. The room was filled with many, if not all of the busing staff the district employs, most of who are Kings Park residents.
Members of the audience spoke of the long standing tradition of having in house busing, many others remarked about the sense of safety they get from having familiar faces, year after year, behind the wheel.
“We lose local and dependable Kings Park residents, lose expertise, lose piece of mind that all Kings Park parents have. It that what you want for Kings Park students?” said one audience member.
The issue of an outside service was raised at last year’s budget hearing when a resident inquired about the possibility. The board committed at that time to look into the option.
To further explore the option, the district says they would hire an outside consultant and estimate the cost would be about $12,000-$15,000.
"Let them look," said Sobotkin. "Safety, time tested, long time drivers. I don't know that you can get that anywhere else."
Board president, Bill Motherway said it has been a topic of discussion for all of his six years on the board.
“We owe it to the community to do this analysis,” said Motherway.
Below are some of the benefits and challenges outlined by the district Tuesday evening.District-Owned Busing Contract Busing Year long scheduling flexibility Changes may incur additional costs Buses immediately available Could be delay in emergency Familiarity of drivers May have unknown drivers Current costs are relatively high Overall costs expected to decrease Difficult to manage current contract New contract every three to five years Aging fleet Responsible for fleet and upkeep