WELLSBORO — During a three-hour school board meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 14, a good chunk of it was spent discussing a transportation contract during public comment.
The Wellsboro Area School District board addressed the rumors head on in a statement at the beginning of the meeting. Board president Susan Judlin said the district is currently under contract with Benedict’s Bus Services for transporting students through the 2019-20 school year. She said the district is not anticipating nor is requesting any changes through the remainder of this school year to transportation services.
Judlin acknowledged the district has negotiated with Benedict’s for terms and conditions for future years and that Niles Transportation has accepted a contract with the district for future years. The same contract has been offered to Benedict’s, but no agreement has been reached.
Rumors that the district solicited transportation contracts in the Philly area, or anywhere, and that drivers aren’t being paid are just that — rumors, said the board.
During public comment, Tyler Benedict, representing Benedict’s Bus Services, said it has been a difficult year trying to come to an agreement with the district, compared to in the past.
So why has it been a struggle for the district and the bus service to come to an agreement? It comes down to money.
The district put a proposal out — which was rejected by Benedict’s Bus Services and accepted by Niles — that states in the event of a great fuel spike, there will be a stipend going to the bus contractor.
This fuel stipend offers extra protection to the contractor, since the state formula that indicates the base pay for bus drivers is made in advance. State formula is based on the age of the bus, the number of students, miles, etc. Some school districts pay drivers based only the state formula.
This stipend is above what the state formula requires, The district’s solicitor, Chris Lantz, said. In the current contract with Benedict’s, the contractor gets a fuel stipend even during low fuel price environment, Lantz said.
The school is looking to adjust that, so they only get a stipend in the event of a fuel spike. Niles agreed to 1% above state formula for first year and then that percentage goes down. Benedict’s wants 2% above state formula plus the stipend.
Board member John Hoover said the board needed to be fiscally responsible so they can have more teachers in classrooms. The savings between the current contract and what the district has offered is around $50,000.
Hoover could not guarantee that any savings would go toward a teacher.
Chris Gastrock was appointed back onto the school board in a vote of 6-2. Board members Linda West and Lee Stocks voted for Shawndra Holderby. The third applicant was Albert Bieber. Gastrock’s term will expire December 2021.