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ACSD negotiates a better busing contract

MIDDLEBURY — The Addison Central School District has secured an $800,000 rebate in its new transportation contract, thanks to some deft negotiating by ACSD Business Manager Brittany Gilman and some concessions agreed to by the provider, Student Transportation of America/Bet-Cha Transit.
This doesn’t mean the district is getting a bargain, however. The ACSD school board got some sticker shock earlier this month when Bet-Cha — the only bidder for the right to deliver school bus services within the seven-town district — offered to do the job next school year for $1,111,580, representing a 41-percent hike compared to the $785,551 ACSD paid this past academic year. The Bet-Cha offer also called for further increases of 2.5 percent in years two and three of the contract.
Bet-Cha officials cited the rising cost of fuel, insurance, vehicle maintenance and personnel as among the reasons for the increase. And the ACSD’s previous contract, struck in 2009, had some friendly terms that tied annual increases to the Consumer Price Index.
The district suddenly faced the challenge of absorbing much higher transportation costs at a time when its 2018-2019 budget had already been OK’d by voters. So Gilman reached out to Bet-Cha officials and negotiated a new deal that trims the total cost of the pact by $806,030. This was accomplished by:
•  Extending the contract from three to five years, at a total cost of $5,018,916. This allows the ACSD to spread the cost over a longer timeframe, while limiting the increase to 2.5 percent in year one. The increase escalates to 17.8 percent in the fifth and final year of the contract.
•  Not including video cameras in the buses, an amenity that district officials had originally included in its request for proposals. The buses will be equipped with seatbelts.
Bet-Cha officials indicated they could lower the price further if ACSD were to substantially change its school bus routes, but that topic proved a non-starter. But pushing the biggest increases to the end of the contract gives the school district time to weigh, and possibly implement, some other cost-saving measures that could reduce costs.
“The further we can push the bigger hits, the more time we have to deal with them,” ACSD board Chairman Peter Conlon said.
Terms of the pact call for Bet-Cha to provide 20 “regular route” buses and two, 42-passenger vehicles able to accommodate wheel chairs. ACSD includes nine schools in the communities of Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge. The deal also provides transportation for field trips, athletics and a bus that shuttles tuitioned children from the Granville area to classes at Ripton Elementary.
Bet-Cha is the most dominant school busing company in this part of the state, holding contracts with more than 70 school districts and organizations.
“It’s unlikely that the situation would substantially change during the next three years in terms of another player coming in and being able to bid competitively,” Gilman said.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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