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Penn Hills transportation undergoes second round of outsourcing

| Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 2:00 p.m.

Prompted by ongoing complaints and concerns with its transportation provider, Penn Hills school board officials will transfer some bus routes through the end of the 2013-14 school year to other bus companies.

Board members voted 6-2 on Monday night — Heather Hoolahan and Pauline Calabrese voted no — in favor of contracting with AJ Myers and Sons, W.L. Roenigk, Student Services of America, BME Transit and PRN Transit to handle busing runs which, according to solicitor Craig Alexander, current bus contractor First Student “couldn't handle.”

Alexander added that the district was in the process of terminating its contract with First Student, but had not yet done so. Business Director Richard Liberto said the district would be withholding money owed to First Student based on services rendered by the new contractors.

No one spoke on behalf of First Student at Monday's meeting, and First Student officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

Hoolahan wanted to know if the move would ultimately cost the district more money.

“Are we deducting from First Student the actual costs, or only what we would have owed them for these runs?” she said.

Alexander said the plan is to “go after 100 percent of our out-of-pocket costs.”

Former school board member Erin Vecchio raised concerns about the legality of approving the contracts after the fact, citing February 2014 start dates listed on the resolutions the board approved. Alexander said the board was merely ratifying a contract, an issue well settled in case law.

In explaining her “no” vote, Hoolahan agreed action needed to be taken, but said the issue for her is one of procedure, and it has been coming up time and again to school board meetings.

“I can't vote for something that I've talked about meeting after meeting after meeting,” she said, referring to Penn Hills administrators entering into contracts and then bringing them to the board for approval.

The issue sparked a lengthy debate in October 2013, when administrators brought the board a $10,707 contract for the Ninth Grade Academy for approval. The board agreed that no contract over $100 would be executed without board pre-approval, she said. She reiterated that concern at Monday night's meeting.

Hoolahan was also concerned that the resolutions did not spell out an estimated cost for services, but rather listed the cost per run or per hour for each contract.

Superintendent Thomas Washington apologized for putting the board in an awkward position.

“We were having a crisis,” he said. “We looked at outsourcing just a portion of our (bus) runs. But because we had too many kids not being picked up, bus routes being combined ... we had to do something in the best interest of kids.”

The school district had previously employed its own drivers to provide transportation to district's 4,000 students.

District leaders hired First Student in May of 2011 when it couldn't reach a contract with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1552 bus drivers. The district laid off 75 drivers, five mechanics and 12 bus aides.

Officials estimated a savings of $1 million in each year of the five-year contract with First Student. The district also received $900,000 by selling 84 buses to First Student.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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