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Study Urges Negotiating To Renew All-Star Contract, Changing School Start Times



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While acknowledging that Newtown has seen some "emotional and sometimes divisive" issues surrounding its shift from an owner-operator student transportation network to a single private vendor, a recently delivered student transportation study recommends the district "immediately enter into renegotiation discussion" with that provider, All-Star Transportation.The Newtown Bee for review by Superintendent of Schools Joseph V. Erardi, Jr.

That is one of the leading recommendations in the 62-page report, which was circulated to the Board of Education June 21, and prepared by Mark Walsh and Transportation Advisory Services (TAS) of Walpole, N.Y. The report was provided to

The study dishes out numerous compliments regarding the administration's organization and provision of data to help develop the study, as well as its financial reporting relative to transportation costs. All-Star's routing practices, its vehicle inspection results, its fleet condition and the company's ability to meet the flexible and changing demands of athletic transportation received kudos as well.

Perhaps the most striking recommendation made is to consider changing local school start times and the current tiered system All-Star uses to route it buses to deliver various grade levels to schools on time.

In regard to routing, the study also recommends the district mount a detailed review of ridership and route times, and that the district keep the routing duties consolidated with the vendor, versus trying to bring it back under the management of a district-employed transportation director as a potential cost saving measure.

All-Star owns its own routing software, which the report states, would need to be replaced or may be a cost escalator for a new provider if All-Star did not negotiate a return as the district's vendor.

On the issue of transportation policies and procedures, the TAS study notes that Newtown's guidelines are "outdated and should be replaced." The policy review process, when and if it is initiated, should include both district and All-Star representatives.

A greater use of bus stops is encouraged, apparently to reduce the overall number of stops each bus has to make to bring on or discharge riders, and bus safety zone areas need to be reviewed in relation to changing student demographics away from elementary-level age riders.

Trip tracking, or the acquisition of software for that purpose, is specifically recommended for athletic travel. The district should also establish a complaint tracking system "in compliance with All-Star's requirements," and an annual meeting should be held between district personnel and the rank and file drivers and aides, the report states.

Along with a strong advisory about entering into negotiations for a new multiyear contract, is advice to negotiate for even newer and more technologically advanced buses. The report points out that if a new fleet is introduced, its increased value would bring more property tax revenue to the town.

Regarding the school bus fleet and its management, the TAS study notes that All-Star's current rolling stock is better than average when compared to other comparable districts. At the same time, the study notes that All-Star's use of Newtown's Global Positioning System (GPS) is a benefit to the company although it is not a requirement of the current transportation contract.

Looking into transportation-related financials, the study points out that a "detailed reporting process should be put into place for All-Star and the Education Connection contracts to track actual student usage."

On the matter of contracts, the TAS study notes that the rates being charged by All-Star are "relatively comparable to regional districts," while stating that "given the numerous variables in student transportation, an absolute comparison" against competing transportation bidders based only on "daily price" can be misleading.

TAS believes that the five percent increase apparently being sought in a new All-Star contract, according to the report, is high and may be reduced through negotiations. The report notes that surrounding communities are paying transportation contract increases between 2.5 and 4 percent.

It also states that All-Star has generally been compliant with all current contract terms and conditions, despite localized criticism during the 2016-17 school budget deliberations that the company has failed to fulfill a stipulation to produce monthly ridership reports.

Another contention that surfaced during budget talks - that a bus seat must be provided to every district student regardless of whether they choose to ride or not - was not specifically addressed in the report's summary.

Along with its recommendation urging an immediate negotiation with All-Star, the report states that if an agreement cannot be reached the district should be poised to release specifications for other potential bidders to review.

And, although TAS states that putting the local contract out to bid "might" result in a decrease in costs, it may also result in a significant cost increase with no guarantee that a new vendor could meet All-Star's "quality standards." It also notes that in Connecticut, there is relatively little competition among school transportation providers.

While making little mention of the Education Connection in its recommendations, the report does indicate that the second company continues to provide special needs and out-of-district transportation. The district requested the study focus exclusively on its relationship with All-Star.

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