UNITED: School board agrees on contract with new transportation company
EAST WHEATFIELD TOWNSHIP — Despite some concerns voiced in opposition, the United school directors on Tuesday approved a finalized contract with a new transportation provider for the district’s students that is expected to save about $300,000 in its first year.
In a unanimous vote, the board pushed through an agreement with Northern Cambria-based Tri County Transportation Inc., following statements to the board and a request to table the motion from employees of Krise Bus Service, which currently provides transportation for United’s students.
Switching to Tri County will save the district approximately $300,000 in its first year, finance director G. Thomas Kalinyak said following the meeting. The 12-year contract is effective July 1 through June 30, 2026.
The reason for the savings, he said, is that Tri County is structuring the district’s costs based upon the subsidy the school district receives from the state. Kalinyak called it a one-for-one action, where the contract is structured at 100 percent reimbursement. United receives a state subsidy based on allowances, and Tri County is going to employ buses that cost the district based on those allowances, he said.
“So the revenues that we receive as a district will coincide with those contracted costs,” he said.
The current contract was done on a per-diem basis. Those rates were escalated through the life of the contract and not billed in conjunction with the state subsidy, Kalinyak said. The district’s costs will escalate under the new contract, he added, but so will the subsidies, “so it’s kind of a zero-sum game.”
Board President Don Davis said the length of the contract helped to smooth out any spikes in reimbursement.
“The longer contract assured (Tri County) of being able to match us at 100 percent of the reimbursement,” he said.
In a district where 1 mill of taxes brings in about $42,000, “a $300,000 savings on anything in a year is a significant amount,” Davis said.
“In this particular case, it was about the money,” he added. “We obviously thought well of Krise — we renewed them before — but at this particular time when money is of a major concern to every board … it’s our opinion that we would have been negligent in our duties if we didn’t entertain something from a company that offered to save us $300,000 in the first year.”
Davis said Tri County stressed the savings wouldn’t be at the expense of what Tri County pays its drivers, or at the expense of safety.
The district did “a lot of reference checking with other districts that have used Tri County, (and) have gotten nothing but positive things on them,” he said.
Davis said Tri County representatives met with the board and school bus drivers and “have assured us that they would like to hire all of the bus drivers of the district because they’re familiar with the routes, with the families, with the district, and who better to drive our students than the people who have been doing it?”
Davis said Tri County also offered a bonus to drivers who sign on with the company, and as of Tuesday evening, Tri County representatives offered to match the salaries that the drivers now receive. Davis said the board spoke Tuesday with Tri County President Jerry Tibbot, Vice President Bob Koban and facility manager Lemmon Dishong.
Davis also said Tri County is continuing to meet with the drivers, adding that Koban told the board that “he has been calling the drivers personally to recognize their concerns and to communicate with them what Tri County will be offering them.”
He said the board had asked Krise to talk to them about what it would take to extend their contract, since it was coming to an end, and what would be best for them and for the district.
Krise employees informed board members of the reality of their daily responsibilities driving students to and from school and other events — dealing with screaming, crying and unruly children; cleaning up garbage, vomit and other messes; and driving in bad weather conditions, to name a few.
They also expressed concern and confusion over what was going to happen in three months, but, also, why they weren’t notified of the district’s planned move to another company, as some said they only heard about it through media reports last month and were never notified by the district or by Tri County.
Tim Krise, vice president of Krise Bus Lines, said that on Oct. 23, during the company’s first meeting with the board’s transportation committee, he was informed that United had decided to accept proposals for student transportation rather than discuss a renewal with Krise.
According to Krise, board President Don Davis said that because of problems the district expressed with the company, the district decided to seek other transportation companies. Krise said he questioned what those problems were and why Krise employees were never made aware of them prior to the meeting.
When specific issues were raised by the business manager, they were immediately addressed by the company’s terminal manager, Stephanie Baker, and after their side was presented, Krise said Davis stated that he “apparently was misinformed.”
Davis said after Tuesday’s board meeting that Krise has been a good transportation provider over the past 13 years and didn’t specify or confirm what, if any, problems Krise was alluding to.
After further discussions during that meeting, the committee members asked Krise representatives to leave the conference room. When they returned, Krise said, they were told the request for proposals was going to be put on hold until they had another meeting to discuss the renewal contract.
On Nov. 4, Krise had a second meeting with the board, administration and Krise staff members to present suggested changes and to give the district a chance to identify their changes. Krise said he felt the meeting was very productive, “and we were led to believe that we were going to continue the relationship.”
On Jan. 3, Krise had been scheduled through Superintendent Barbara Parkins to give a presentation to the board as a formality of renewal.
Then, on Feb. 12, Krise said one of his drivers informed him he heard on the radio that the district had entered into an agreement with Tri County.
Krise also said that prior to the announcement, the company’s terminal had been receiving calls from concerned parents about unmarked school buses pulling up to and stopping in front of their houses. When the district was questioned, he said, officials said they knew nothing about it. Krise said he later learned that it was Tri County drivers trying to learn the routes.
“I have been in student transportation for over 30 years working with over 30 school districts in Pennsylvania and never have lost a contract in this manner,” Krise said.
“If you clearly wanted to get rid of us, why didn’t you go through the formal process of a (request for proposal)?” he asked the board. He said that, as of Tuesday, the company had received no correspondence from the district notifying them of a deal made with Tri County.
Krise said the company has hired an attorney to review the documentation and to look at the process that was used by the administration “in accepting an unsolicited proposal.” He asked the board to give the attorney the chance to look at the process that was used and “if he deems it necessary, request the auditor general to conduct an investigation.”
Ron Saffron, the district’s solicitor, said after the meeting that because a bus transportation contract is a service contract, under state law “school districts are under no obligation to bid those contracts out or to ask for proposals or to advertise for proposals.”
“In the spirit of competition, because Tri County is a local vendor,” providing services to Purchase Line and Penns Manor school districts, “(the board) would also give them an opportunity to make a proposal, which they did,” Saffron said.
Davis added the board didn’t think it was appropriate to talk about the agreement with Tri County until it was finalized.
“In retrospect, I can see their concerns, but legally, until we actually approved this, we didn’t feel it appropriate to talk about what we were doing. Obviously we need to make communication a little better,” he said. “I just think we wanted to be final with all our details before we talked too much about it.”