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Propane Buses Are In The Future: School Board Approves New All-Star Transportation Contract



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Following an executive session, Tuesday, August 16, the Board of Education approved a new five-year contract with All-Star Transportation for the 2017-2022 school years, according to Board of Education Chair Keith Alexander.

The decision was made after Transportation Advisory Services (TAS) conducted a study, which was first circulated to the board at its meeting on June 21 then presented to the board by TAS President Mark Walsh at its meeting on July 21. The study, which cost $9,680, recommended the district renegotiate its contract with All-Star Transportation.

The board voted 6-1 on two motions regarding the contract, with board member Andrew Clure voting against both motions. The first motion, Mr Alexander said, was to suspend the board's policy of going out to bid, and the second motion was to approve the new contract. Mr Clure explained on Wednesday that his votes were not against the service provider, but were against suspending the policy and not following what he sees as the town procedures.

Mr Alexander said the board members who voted in favor of the two motions voiced support based on the terms of the new contract and a feeling that if the district went out to bid, it would not get a better contract. Mr Alexander also said the service All-Star provides Newtown is "exemplary."

At a meeting with All-Star Transportation employees on Wednesday, August 17, at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Superintendent of Schools Joseph V. Erardi, Jr, told the gathered crowd, made up mostly of bus drivers, that the school board was pleased to pass the new contract.

"I think part of that has to do with the service you provide for our children, and I mean that sincerely," Dr Erardi told the group.

Dr Erardi said he is "worry free" regarding transportation, thanks to All-Star's administration and the drivers' efforts.

Part of the board's motions, Mr Alexander said, leaves Dr Erardi the authorization to make any changes necessary to finalize the contract with All-Star Transportation and the school district.

The district's Director of Business Ron Bienkowski said on Wednesday that the contract will continue to be worked on between the attorneys representing the town and All-Star Transportation for roughly the next two weeks.

"The overall average over the five years, assuming everything stays the same, would be 2.4 percent," said Mr Bienkowski, adding that details within the contract may change. In the first year of the contract there will be no increase, and each consecutive year will have a 3 percent increase.

The 2016-17 budgeted amount for regular and special routes provided by All-Star Transportation is $3,172,946, and $155,000 is budgeted for field trip transportation costs with the company, according to Mr Bienkowski.

The new contract combined two contracts All-Star Transportation had with the district for bus services. The company will oversee regular education transportation, in-town special education transportation, and athletic and field trip transportation, according to Mr Bienkowski.

The district also has a contract with Education Connection for some transportation services in town.

All-Star Transportation also provided rates for offering different levels of bus route tiers in the contract, which Mr Bienkowski said would leave the school board the option of looking into changing the current three-tier bus route configuration.

Powered By Propane

Another significant part in the contract, Mr Bienkowski said, is a plan to phase in propane-powered vehicles.

"We're pretty excited about that, because this is certainly a move toward positive effect on the environment," said Mr Bienkowski, remembering a group of eighth grade students in 2013 who presented the school board with a researched argument in favor of using propane rather than diesel buses.

The propane buses will be phased in over a four-year period, with 13, 13, 12, then 12 buses added to the Newtown fleet during that time.

"We are pleased with their service," Mr Bienkowski said, adding that safety is paramount to All-Star Transportation, and that the company monitors the length of time students are on the bus.

"And they have been able to do that pretty consistently for all of the schools," said Mr Bienkowski.

"All-Star Transportation is excited and proud to continue our great relationship with Newtown Public Schools and its dedicated team of administrators," All-Star Transportation President John Dufour said in a statement, Wednesday. "We look forward to another five years of providing safe, professional, and quality transportation to Newtown's students and are excited to introduce a new fleet of propane-powered, environmentally friendly buses that will not only provide top-notch transportation, but reduce our carbon footprint and create a healthier environment for everyone in Newtown."

The school board was also expected to discuss the 2016-17 contract for behavior therapists in the district during the executive session, but Mr Alexander said that discussion was postponed for a future meeting.

The Board of Education approved a contract with All-Star Transportation for 2017-22 at its meeting on Tuesday, August 16. (Bee file photo)
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