Wilton schools mull extending bus contract
At its next meeting, on Thursday, Feb. 9, the Wilton Board of Education plans to decide whether to extend its current bus contract or go out to bid for a new provider.
“We are at the end of a five-year contract with Student Transportation Association of America, and the issue now is to either go out to bid or negotiate an extension of the contract,” financial director Dick Huot said at the board’s Jan. 26 meeting.
Huot recommended the board negotiate an extension with the company “for a lot of reasons.”
“The primary reason is the fact that we are low cost per day, per bus and have brand-new 2017 buses that are top of the line,” he said.
Wilton is one of the few districts in the state whose buses have three-point seat belts, Huot said.
“Lap belts in school buses are very much discouraged because if there is an accident, restraint on the abdomen can be more injurious than the accident itself,” he said. “Having a three-point safety belt is, again, top of the line and in terms of crash testing is the best to have.”
Each bus also has child seats built into the front seats for riders under 60 pounds, said Huot, “which we have in our pre-K program and some in our kindergarten program.”
The association is offering the district a five-year contract with an extension of a 3% increase the first two years and a 4% increase the last three years.
The 3% increase proposal is in anticipation of an open labor contract in the second year, said Huot, and the 4% seems to be an effort to “kind of protect themselves for whatever may come down the line.”
“With an economy that seems to be improving, that could be an issue,” said Huot, “but I’m looking at the savings to us possibly in the number of buses and waves.”
Reducing buses from three to two waves, Huot said, could save the district $50,000 in diesel, the provision of which is part of the district’s responsibility under the transportation contract.
“We work with the town and a couple of other communities to leverage the cost of that, we go out to bid every two or three years. We’re currently at the end of a three-year contract,” said Huot.
A 3% contract increase does not mean the district’s contract would necessarily go up 3%, said Huot, “because we can, and will, adjust declining enrollment to the number of buses we need depending on the loads.”
In an effort to combine loads and reduce the number of buses used to transport Wilton students, Huot said, the district has asked the association to track the number of student bus riders.
“I asked them to give me four days — one of which the weather is inclement — to give me the loads of each wave on each bus,” said Huot. “From that, we can get some real good data.”
Since each bus handles three waves each day, said Huot, combining loads would not be a simple task.
“To cut one bus, you have to cut it at Miller-Driscoll; you have to cut it at Middlebrook and the high school, and again at Cider Mill,” he said, “and obviously the loads at the high school and middle school are greater than the loads at the elementary schools.”
Nevertheless, Huot said, the district is working with the bus company and looking at the data to see where changes can be made.
Another reason Huot recommends the district negotiate a contract with the Student Transportation Association is cost.
“If we go out to bid, I don’t think we would be able to match the prices that we currently get,” he said.
Compared to Ridgefield, Huot said, Wilton pays slightly less for student transportation.
“We’re at $411.31 per day right now, and they're paying $427.59 per bus,” he said. “I’m concerned that if we go out to bidding, we will lose our low advantage.”
Considering the new line of buses and low cost, Huot said, he believes it would be “wise” for the district to accept the association’s proposal and extend its student transportation contract for another five years.