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School Board Approves Transportation Contract, And More



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In a split vote during its May 3 meeting, the Newtown Board of Education awarded a five-year transportation contract to All-Star Transportation.

Along with approving the contract, the school board approved a state-mandated elective course for Newtown High School, and approved changes to the district’s “math pathways,” or the math classes students can take between fourth and eighth grade.

The school board also heard a diversity, equity, and inclusion presentation, which will be covered in next week’s print edition of The Newtown Bee.

Following a Request for Proposal (RFP), the school board learned at its March 15 meeting that only one bid came back for the school district’s transportation contract. The current contract with All-Star Transportation, which oversees the majority of bus routes for the district, is set to end at the end of this school year.

At the May 3 meeting, district Director of Business & Finance Tanja Vadas said — reacting to Public Participation speaker Ryan Knapp who, among other things concerning the transportation contract, questioned the school district’s RFP process — she stands by the district’s RFP process “but other companies just didn’t bid.”

Vadas also shared that All-Star Transportation offered the district an alternative to the proposed five-year contract too: an extension of one year to the existing contract. The one-year extension, Vadas pointed out, would cost the district an additional $355,000 over the current budget, close to a 20% increase.

If that one-year extension had been chosen by the school board, a new bid would have been developed in January for the full contract.

Vadas said the five-year contract meets the school district’s budget expectations, and she shared ways All-Star Transportation has been working to mitigate bus driver shortages.

“They are trying,” Vadas said. “They are trying to get the word out there.”

According to a presentation from Vadas, with advertising for recruitment efforts, All-Star Transportation had 82 applicants between July and March, and of those 82 applicants eight people started the process to become a school bus driver, two of those people completed the process, and no one ended up joining the team.

Vadas said Newtown is not alone in facing school bus driver shortages due to the pandemic and other financial reasons. During deliberation on the bus contract, school board members voiced not liking either contract option.

The school board voted 5 to 2 to pass the five-year contract with Jennifer Larkin and Janet Kuzma voting against.

School board Chair Deborra Zukowski shared that she was supporting the five-year contract despite having “no good options” due to concerns around the COVID-19 pandemic and its repercussions continuing, inflation, and the school district about to transition to a new superintendent of schools, with current Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue set to retire at the end of the school year.

Following a first read and presentation at its April 19 meeting, the school board held a second read and vote for approval on a state-mandated African American/Black and Puerto Rican/Latino course at NHS at its May 3 meeting.

Since it was state-mandated, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Anne Uberti explained it did not technically need to be voted on by the school board, but was being voted on because all curriculum in the school district is voted on by the board.

The school board voted 6 to 1 to approve the course, with school board member Don Ramsey voting against the motion saying he was not voting against the course itself but instead by how the state presented and mandated the course, which will be an elective at NHS starting next school year.

In another split vote, the school board voted 5 to 2 to approve changes to the math pathways, with Larkin and Zukowski voting against the motion.

The changes, according to Uberti, defer placement into an advanced math class until grade six instead of five and to eliminate the Math Accelerated class in grade seven. The proposals were brought forth by the kindergarten to twelfth grade math committee after “careful consideration of several factors and a review of relevant data.”

Education Editor Eliza Hallabeck can be reached at eliza@thebee.com.

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