District to discuss options with school transportation companies


WESTFIELD – Westfield Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Ronald R. Rix requested permission from the School Committee April 6 to have conversations with the school transportation companies, Lecrenski Brothers and Van Pool, regarding their contracts for the current school year.
Rix said that he and Transportation Coordinator Pamela Kotarski have been on conference calls with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education about the statewide issue.
“Right now, under our current contract, we can’t pay our vendors according to Mass General Law for services not rendered,” Rix said.
Rix said he has been in conversation with Gateway Regional School District, which also contracts with Lecrenski Brothers, a relatively small company. Both districts are concerned that the vendor remains solvent due to the difficulty of obtaining transportation services for the area.
“It’s challenging; there is no simple answer,” Rix said, adding, “Finding bus drivers is a very difficult and challenging task. We need to take into consideration the consequences of our actions.”
Rix said one vendor laid off its employees, and the other has kept employees active; but said vendors also have leases on buses to pay. He said he was asking for permission to begin conversations with them to come up with a compromise.
“When school does open, we need solvent vendors. That’s why we’re asking for your approval to (look) for a compromise to keep them solvent, cover their costs, and make sure we have a contractor when school opens,” Rix said.
School Committee member Ramon Diaz, Jr., asked since the matter concerns a contract, shouldn’t it be held in executive session, and Heather Sullivan asked whether it wouldn’t fall under the negotiating process.
“I think it might be worth letting Ron and Pam have an initial conversation to start,” said Superintendent Stefan Czaqporowski.
“Then we know what their expectations are,” agreed Sullivan, adding that on the business side, they want to have the provider, and there is also a human side to the matter.
“I wouldn’t have an issue to find out what they’re looking for and why; but not to talk about what we’re willing to do,” Diaz said.
“We’re not giving Ron and Pam the authority to settle the contract,” Bo Sullivan said.
Rix said usually the contractors are paid on the first and the fifteenth, and by law the district can’t pay them, adding that it’s a statewide problem.
Cindy Sullivan asked whether they might be covered under the Small Business CARES Act. “I don’t want them to be paid by us to keep them whole if there’s another avenue from the government to keep them whole,” she said.
“There are still more questions than answers,” Rix said, adding that the conversation will be more of a fact finding meeting, to let them know the School Committee is open, and what other districts are doing to be creative with this.
“I’m totally fine with that. I am interested in what other districts are doing. We might in another week or two get more info from DESE that we don’t know today,” Heather Sullivan said.
Rix said the district is also negotiating with Van Pool on a new three-year contract, in which the company agreed to hold off on a requested increase the first year, saving the district $50 to $60 thousand. He said the district is recommending approval of the contract for three years. The company provides required out of district transportation for students.

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