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Committee ratifies new school bus contract in East Providence

District faces an initial 16.5 percent increase for services in deal with STA/Ocean State Transit

By Mike Rego
Posted 7/6/20

EAST PROVIDENCE — Following a roughly one-hour period of discussion, the School Committee at a special session held Tuesday night, June 30, approved a new contract with the district’s …

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Committee ratifies new school bus contract in East Providence

District faces an initial 16.5 percent increase for services in deal with STA/Ocean State Transit

Posted

EAST PROVIDENCE — Following a roughly one-hour period of discussion, the School Committee at a special session held Tuesday night, June 30, approved a new contract with the district’s busing provider Student Transportation of America/Ocean State Transit.

The committee, which previously hashed out a number of matters pertaining to the contract at its June 9 forum, was last week guided through the final three-page document by District Director of Finance Craig Enos with input from Superintendent Kathryn Crowley and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Sandra Forand.

At an initial cost of $3,858,886.15, the total represents a 16.5 percent increase ($615,543) year-over-year from the previous pact between the sides.

The agreement, ratified by unanimous 5-0 vote, calls for a three year contract, commencing with the upcoming 2020-21 term and with 3.5 percent increases annually. The document also includes wording for two additional one-year extensions, at 3 percent increases annually, beginning with the 2023-24 school year.

Ward 1 member and Committee Chairman Charlie Tsonos noted, all inclusive, the district typically spends between $4-$5 million annually on busing for school related events.

The price being paid by the district represents the cost associated with the 38 buses used for daily instruction purposes only. It does not include any busing for sports or extracurricular activities.

Ward 4 Committee member Jessica Beauchaine pointed to an article in the contract which affords the district flexibility in seeking transportation for athletics and other school events. The district is not obligated to use STA/OST for those services.

The total payment for the 2020-21 term also represents an increase in the amount of money paid to bus aides, following a recent contract negotiated between their union and STA/OST. Hourly wages in that pact are going up from approximately $19 to $25 per hour.

Mr. Enos said key to the final document, refined since STA/OST was the only respondent to a Request for Proposal issued by the district, was a provision allowing for the sides to enter into arbitration if there is a dispute.

It also gives the district some leeway to alter terms of the agreement due to the “Act of God…or any other disruption” provision. Under such an unforeseen circumstance, like the COVID-19 pandemic, if one occurs during the length of the deal the sides have the ability to seek an adjustment of the terms. In the draft document submitted by STA/OST, there was a requirement the district pay 90 percent of monthly billing regardless of the situation. The contract now allows for renegotiation of rates if a similar situation arises.

The contract stipulates payment for 180 days of services, Mr. Enos continued. Professional development and snow days are built in and the district will not to be charged.

Superintendent Crowley interjected, saying the Rhode Island Department of Education, based off the relative success of distance learning initiatives used during the pandemic, has eliminated snow days. Students and staff will conduct classes virtually if in-person instruction needs to be postponed due to weather.

Of note as well under the current circumstances, Mr. Enos said the $1.6 million the district expects to receive from the state’s portion of the federal pandemic response through the CARES Act can be used to offset this year’s increase in transportation expenditures.

Last week’s meeting as well included a discussion about how the district is preparing to return to in-person classes as Gov. Gina Raimondo recently outlined in her reopening plan. The 2020-21 term is scheduled to begin statewide on August 31.

Superintendent Crowley said the district is receiving daily guidance locally from RIDE and the Rhode Island Department of Health as well as from the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Dr. Forand explained some 60 district employees are working on committees reviewing all of the details returning to buildings would require.

Specifically, the various groups are studying three proposals: in-person studies, a hybrid of in-person and distance learning and all virtual study.

“First and foremost is the safety of our students and staff,” Dr. Forand said, adding the committees are compiling budgets based on the three scenarios. Their efforts have included taking a survey of parents throughout the district.

Dr. Forand said committee recommendations will be forward to a task force Superintendent Crowley seated to review the matter. Formal proposals will then be presented to the School Committee.

Mr. Enos said the committees are considering all avenues, “split, day, full day, early release…we’re throwing in every idea we can come up with.”

Superintendent Crowley added, “Every single district is grappling with these issues and they’re changing on a daily basis.”

On the issue of the number of buses the district probably will need next term, Dr. Forand said it is “highly unlikely we will likely use less buses.” If the district is required to add more vehicles, each would cost some $428 according to the new pact.

At-Large Committee member Joel Monteiro noted technically the district is not locked into a specific amount of buses, according to the contract, and it also allows for a decrease in services if so desired.

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Mike Rego

Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.