By Elizabeth F. McNamara
The School Committee voted 7-0 Tuesday night to approve paying Ocean State Transportation $158,675, just over a third of the amount it would normally have paid for April-through-June bus service. OST has not provided bus service for the district since Gov. Gina Raimondo closed schools March 13.
(While the governor has not yet announced whether or not school will resume, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced Tuesday students would not return to classrooms this school year.)
Two weeks ago, the School Committee decided to wait before voting on paying the $465,000 April-June expense. Following that, EGSD lawyer Matt Oliverio wrote to Ocean State Transit, accepting the offer it made in February (before the reality of COVID-19 fully hit the U.S.) of a one-year contract extension with a 3 percent increase.
“Mr. Murgo and I talked,” Oliverio said of his conversation with OST president Tony Murgo. Murgo told Oliverio he would honor the rate increase of 3 percent, regardless of the district’s decision regarding this year’s bill. But Murgo said, although the company had laid off bus drivers and monitors, it did have some fixed costs, such as insurance, rent, and salaries for office staff. Murgo put that number at $158,000, telling Oliverio, “That’s what I need to not even break even.”
Oliverio added that some or all could be reimbursable by COVID-19 stimulus money.
Meanwhile, the Dept. of Education weighed in on the bus contract situation, since it was affecting every district in the state, advocating districts negotiate a lower cost to existing contracts by looking at fixed costs.
With these factors in mind, Oliverio said, he recommended the School Committee avoid potentially costly litigation and continue the good relationship the district has with OST by paying the $158,000 and getting a full release on the rest of the 2019-20 contract. School Committee members agreed.