AP NEWS

New school bus contract hits road block

January 30, 2019

BRIDGEPORT — A new city school bus contract remains in limbo after one school board member — upset with restrictions the pact placed on drivers — got up and abruptly left a meeting, leaving his colleagues without a quorum and unable to seal the deal.

Board member Chris Taylor objected to wording in the contract that would prohibit the hiring of school bus drivers who have been convicted of certain crimes or faced civil judgments for actions that suggest they are litigious, irresponsible, lacking in moral character, or would not be appropriate for working with minors in a school environment.

Although the language was inserted into the contract by the city attorney’s office and is aligned with state law, Taylor called it a deal breaker for him.

“This is just giving them the right to disqualify anybody they don’t want to work for them,” Taylor said. “It is racism at its best and this board is going to let that go?”

The language essentially applies existing standards used for school employees to school bus drivers hired by We Transport, which has had the district’s school bus business since 2010.

The main objective is to keep individuals guilty of crimes against children off buses.

Taylor said he has no problem with that but as an ex-offender himself — he has three past misdemeanor convictions — he wants others with criminal histories to get the chance at decent paying jobs.

Other urged passage of the three-year contract extension while clarification from the city attorney’s office could be sought.

Board member Maria Pereira called the negotiated price amazing. The contract cost increases a total of 3.96 over three years, adding about $718,000 to the $18 million contract. In exchange the district has been promised 15 new buses in the first year, and 25 new buses in each of following two years of the contract.

The negotiated deal is less than what We Transport bid on the contract.

At no additional cost, We Transport agreed to provide a van with car seats to transport students and their children to the new early childhood program at Harding. It was reportedly a request from Schools Superintendent Aresta Johnson.

Chief Financial Officer Marlene Siegel urged the board to approve the contract because the new buses the district is to receive for 2019-20 will include wheelchair units and could take months to be delivered.

With no vote could delay the process, she said.

As she spoke however, Taylor started collecting his things and left the meeting, leaving the board with just four members. Five is required for a quorum.

Board Chairman John Weldon asked Johnson and Siegel if the contractor could be told the board agrees with the rates but needs a minor clarification of the contract language. Without a quorum, the board could not vote.

Earlier in the evening the board also delayed action on a contract extension for Delta T which provides special education aide substitutes.

The issue there were not the terms of the deal but a new, voluntary survey presented to the board that showed how well school principals liked the service. Of 25 principals surveyed, only six responded.

Taylor suggested if the survey came from the superintendent’s office and not the contractor, more principals may have all filled it out.

“Do we know principals even received it,” said Board Member Joseph Sokolovic.

While others suggested that could be something to do going forward, the board voted 5-to-1 to wait until Feb. 11, to hear from more principals.

AP RADIO
Update hourly