Highlands solicitor: Public can’t comment at upcoming bus meeting
Following a failed vote to hire a new school bus company, Highlands School Board wants to question the two companies vying for the district’s transportation contract, district Solicitor Ira Weiss said.
The board called a rare public committee meeting for next week to pose questions to representatives of W.L. Roenigk, the district’s longtime provider, and ABC Transit. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Highlands High School audion in Harrison.
The committee meeting is being held publicly after the Tribune-Review reported on the district’s practice of keeping its committee meetings closed to the public.
Weiss said the board wants to question the companies, and “the only way to do that is to have a workshop meeting.”
“It’s essentially a workshop meeting for the board to ask questions of these contractors and address whatever concerns they may have,” Weiss said.
Residents will not be able to comment or ask questions at the meeting, Weiss said.
Melissa Melewsky, a media law counsel with the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said residents should be afforded an opportunity to comment under the state’s Sunshine Act.
“The Sunshine Act requires an opportunity for public comment at all public meetings. If this meeting is advertised and held under the (Sunshine) Act, there must be a reasonable opportunity for public comment,” Melewsky said.
District administrators said Highlands could see a $1.4 million benefit over five years by changing to ABC Transi. That includes saving about $405,500 from ABC’s costs compared to Roenigk, $787,000 in fuel savings and $215,000 in increased state subsidy because of ABC’s newer buses.
But some residents said they oppose replacing Roenigk because students have long-standing relationships with its drivers.
The school board voted 4-3, with one member abstaining and another absent, at an April 23 special meeting to award the contract to ABC Transit.
It failed because five votes, a majority of the nine-member board, are needed for approval.
While not permitted to speak at the committee meeting, Weiss said residents will be able to comment before the board votes at a special legislative meeting to consider the contract scheduled for 7 p.m. May 13 in the high school audion. The board’s regular agenda planning meeting will follow.
The district’s contract with Roenigk runs out at the end of June.
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, [email protected] or via Twitter .