Westfield Newsroom

Granville Selectboard member opposes school bus outsourcing

The Southwick-Granville-Tolland Regional School District bus fleet, which could be sold to the Lower Pioneer Educational Collaborative. (HOPE E. TREMBLAY/THE WESTFIELD NEWS)

GRANVILLE – Granville Selectboard member Nicole M. Berndt said she is not in favor of a proposal to outsource Southwick-Tolland-Granville Regional School District’s transportation.

The proposal was made last week during a budget hearing where Superintendent Jennifer Willard and Director of Finance Stephen Presnal said the district would save money in the long-term if outsourcing to Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative was approved.

The proposal outlined the transition, which would put the district at a $30,000 deficit, however, Presnal said it would be an overall savings because the Collaborative would purchase the district’s fleet of buses that are currently owned and would lease those vehicles that still have debt.

Willard said the district would then save the $200,000 it typically budgets for capital expenses for fleet replacement as well as saving future costs of paving the transportation parking lot and removing/replacing a fuel tank.

Willard also said transportation is taxing on central office staff who spend a majority of their time on transportation issues versus doing other district work.

Berndt said transportation is part of the district when it comes to administration and staff.

“Administering a school system is more than administering education,” she said, adding that she believes outsourcing will result in more “angry parents in the superintendent’s office.”

Berndt said she doesn’t understand why this is being pushed to the forefront now.

“This is something that, down the road, they have to do,” she said. “We’re not at a point where it’s financially advantageous to outsource transportation.”

Berndt argued that even with potential capital savings for replacing the fleet, improvements needed to the parking lot and the fuel tank will still be incurred, one way or another.

Presnal said last week that the Collaborative may use the current transportation area, located next to Woodland Elementary School, but it could decide to build a new transportation center elsewhere in town or increase its current center in Agawam.

Berndt said if the Collaborative uses the current station, those improvements will still need to be made and she believes the cost would be passed on to the district. She said if they do not use that area, Presnal said it could be used as a maintenance area.

“If the LPVEC uses it, they’ll pass those costs on to us, and if it’s used for maintenance, it will still need to be paved,” said Berndt.

Losing local control is Berndt’s biggest concern. During the presentation, Presnal and Willard said the Collaborative would agree to offer every current driver their position and route, which Presnal called “squatter’s rights.” Berndt said that while that may be true, there is no guarantee the Collaborative would keep up that deal.

“Once it’s transferred, it’s out of our hands,” she said.

Berndt is also worried about losing the financial flexibility that comes with local control. For example, Berndt said if a costly emergency comes up in the district, they now have the flexibility to push off some of that $200,000 in annual capital requests. She said they could keep a bus another year or defer something else to compensate for an emergency.

“We’re going to lose that power,” she said. “We’re going from having that flexibility to ‘Here’s your bill, pay it’.”

Berndt said Granville is already in a tight financial position and pointed to regionalizing as part of the problem.

“We’re doing okay, we’re not strapped for cash, but since they decided to close our school, we have negative growth,” she said. “So every year we will have to raise taxes without growth. So to have that and then lose the flexibility is a scary things for us and it’s something that should be considered.”

Berndt as a public official she understands that some decisions must be made that are unpopular, but she believes this decision could wait.

“If this is approved, I’m considering standing up at Town Meeting and voicing my concern and letting them known I’m going to vote no,” she said. “I think this is a slippery slope.”


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