BOE Switches Gears Again on Outsourcing

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Pickens County Schools may soon begin outsourcing its school bus transportation services.In order to cut costs, Pickens County School System Director of Operations Rick Little announced in the September 13th board meeting that Pickens County Schools may soon contract out its school bus operations services.

The move is in stark contrast to the board’s earlier decision. In August, the board decided to shelf outsourcing its transportation operations after reviewing the bids. At the time, the BOE discussed the idea of either 1) outsourcing the entire transportation operations, or 2) outsourcing only personnel. However, Little then said that after meeting with the companies, he did not think outsourcing was beneficial at the time. He said one reason was cost, saying that over the five-year conctract the deal would cost the county over $100,000. Superintendent Ben Desper added that some costs were difficult to factor into the budget.

“It’s hard to factor in how much we’re going to spend on workers’ comp this year—those kind of things.”

Desper said. According to the August discussion, another reason was control. Little said the county would essentially have to sell the contractors the bus fleet and sacrifice control of operations to the company. Here, Desper noted that if the county wanted to break the contract with the company, the district would likely have to replace the fleet. Although the company would offer a buyback deal, it would not work out to the county’s financial advantage.

“I don’t think it would be prudent,”

Little mused,

“to say, ‘we’re going to do the same thing for more money and not have control over it’.”

Additionally, Little said he thought the companies approach to running the service was “dogmatic,” which he said he found unsettling. Desper explained that the companies expected a “total turnkey” operation, where they controlled the transportation director, all the staff, and fleet maintenance, including cars and trucks. Desper and Little were also concerned about personnel. According to Little, the company assumes authority over the bus drivers as well. Here, the concern was for drivers close to retirement. Desper and Little suggested that these drivers could possibly be released from their positions prior to retirement and lose retirement benefits in the process.

Only a month later, things are different.

At the September BOE meeting, Little said that the school system had recieved a proposal by First Student Transportation Company, and this time Little said the proposal will be a financial gain for the system.

According to Little, the proposal from First Student Transportaion includes providing operational services and the purchase of 34 buses over the next five years.

“Over the next five years, according to this proposal, they will provide the same operation services that we could provide with about the same amount of money and 34 new buses,”

Little said.

Little continued to explain that over the next five years the school system slated to spend $800,000 a year to purchase new buses. However, if the school enters into a contract with First Student, it will save the system approximately 3.2 million dollars.

After the announcement, Desper wanted to know what would become of the 3.2 million dollars the school will save–the 3.2 million comes from S.P.L.O.S.T money, money that the system can only use for certain purposes, including transportation.

“It’s a pretty wide brush of spectrum of things that in the referendum, transportation and purchase of buses is certainly one of them, but capital outlay for construction renovation is another,”

said Little.

“There is a lot of varied things that you can now add to your list to upgrade if you redirect it to your capital outlay fund,”

he said,

“Also, You could choose to esgrove some of those funds over the next five years, if you sign the bust agreement and you decided for some reason you don’t want to continue the agreement, you could esgrove funds for the purchase of buses for no harm, no foul.”

Director of Business Development for First Student Fred Smith also spoke at the meeting.

“Our company is the largest provider of contracted community transportation services in North America,”

he explained, “

We operate over $60,000 buses across North America in the United States and Canada combined.”

Some of the company’s locations are close to Pickens County, including operations sites in Dalton, Savannah, and operations for charter schools in Atlanta. Smith believes these factors will help the school system.

“Obviously, there will be a locations site in Pickens County, but if there is a particular concern with maintenance, we got regional maintenance managers that we can bring in;if there is a personnel concern, we got personnel people. We can dedicate fixed extras resources for any specific period of time that needs to be reconciled,”

Smith said.

By adding an operations site in Pickens County, First Students’ proposal calls for all of its contracted employees to be employees of its own. It does, however, plan on hiring Pickens County’s school bus employees that meet its standards.

Again at the last meeting, one of the concerns from both Desper and Little was that the companies expected a “total turnkey” operation, where they controlled the transportation director, all the staff, and fleet maintenance, including cars and trucks. Now, with First Transportation about to potentially take over in a similar manner, Desper asked Smith what this meant for employees who are close to retiring.

Smith said these types of employees would remain employees of the school system and then in return the school system would pay First Student for any voice credit for those positions.

“We can accommodate them on any basis,”

said Smith.

At this time negotiations are still underway between the school board and the company. The board is scheduled to meet with its school attorney before making any final decision.

FYN will follow this story as it develops.

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