The city’s school board came close to rejecting a $400,000 student transportation contract package for field trips, athletics, and on-call transportation services for special education students to force the state-operated district to conduct a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether it’s feasible to start a small scale in-house transportation operation.
“This is a very large sum of money,” said board Errol Kerr looking at the contracts going to Jersey City-based Aldin Trans Corp., Summit-based A-1 Elegant Bus Tours Inc., and Bloomfield-based Madison Coach.
“We’re in difficult times right now. We can’t continue to do business the same way,” said board member Flavio Rivera on Wednesday night. “At least let’s look at different scenarios.” He said the district should conduct a cost-benefit analysis to consider bringing the operations in-house.
James Smith, director of security, who also handles transportation, said the district conducted a cost benefit analysis. He said bringing the busing program in-house will create a cost to hire full-time employees and cover their benefits.
Smith said a full-time driver would cost $40,000 plus benefits. “It’s a great idea on paper, in actuality it doesn’t work,” he said.
Rivera said the district could hire part-time drivers under $30,000 per year as does Passaic County with its paratransit program. Kerr suggested bringing on per diem drivers who can be utilized when needed for field trips and athletics events.
Board member Jonathan Hodges said state-appointed district superintendent Donnie Evans promised him the Paterson Public Schools would purchase buses to transport students without having to rely on outside firms.
“We cannot continue to plan and not go through with it,” said Rivera. “I think what happened in this situation is we never pursued the plan and we got to the point where it was too late and now these services are needed.”
Smith said the district does have 3-4 small 16-passanger buses that are used by commercial driver’s license holding teachers to transport students to games. Those buses are not enough to take classes to museums or other education trips, said board members.
Hodges said the district needs at least one full bus to take students on educational field trips.
Evans said the district could not carry out the plan to lease-purchase buses this year because of budget cuts. “That’s where the snag came this time around. We couldn’t provide a check to purchase 1 or 2 buses,” said Evans. “Throughout the year we don’t have a steady flow of cash from schools.”
Rivera said government agencies borrow money when making capital investments. “Expenditures like this cannot be sustained by the budget so you borrow,” he said.
In a 5-2 vote the board voted down the contact for the three firms, but then reconsidered it after realizing students have a game on Friday.
Hodges wanted to reduce the amount to $100,000 to allow the district to continue providing transportation while the district determines whether it’s feasible to bring operations in-house.
Robert Murray, the district’s outside legal counsel, told board member the district will have to re-bid the contracts if it decides to increase the contracts at a later time.
“If we go back out the routes are going to come in higher,” said business administrator Daisy Ayala.
Evans warned board members the district better have income coming in to make lease payments on buses as it seeks an end to contracting out the operation.
The district could purchase a small fleet of buses under a lease-purchase agreement and pay it off in 10 years, but continue to operate the buses for 10 more years, added school board president Christopher Irving.
Irving noted there’s “significant” cost associated with having a fleet. He also told his colleagues not to leverage the contract package with their desire to see the district bring operations in-house.
Kerr said the district should use the next few months to conduct an analysis. Rivera wanted a time frame for the analysis.
Board members approved the $400,000 contract package under the condition the district would present an analysis in the next few months.
One of the three companies awarded the contract is A-1 Elegant Bus Tours Inc. which is owned by councilman Shahin Khalique’s brother.
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