Pocono Mountain School District Decides to Outsource Transportation

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SWIFTWATER, MONROE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – There’s a lot of anger in Monroe County after the Pocono Mountain School District’s school board voted to outsource its student transportation Wednesday night.

The district says the move will save nearly $30 million dollars, but union leaders say you can’t put a price on students’ safety.

Union leaders say once the private company takes over, nearly 200 bus drivers, mechanics and secretaries could lose their jobs.

Eyewitness News reached out to all nine school board members, but only heard back from three. One, who voted against outsourcing, agreed to sit down with us for an interview.

Despite a clear message from audience members during Wednesday night’s school board meeting, the board voted 6-3 in favor of outsourcing its student transportation.

Annabella Lastowski is one of the three board members who voted against the proposal.

She says, “it came as a suprise to me that we were voting last night. There’s still some things that need to be discussed.”

Lastowski has concerns about ‘First Student’, the Scotland-based company selected to provide transportation. She worries the private company will bring in its own bus drivers instead of sticking with the district’s long-time drivers, whose contracts expire this summer.

She adds, “for children, that’s a very strange thing for them, to have a stranger take them to school in the morning.”

She also says ‘First Student’ could buy the district’s bus fleet, which includes expensive propane buses recently purchased using grants. “We will lose control of the things we just bought,” she says.

Union leaders say this fight isn’t over yet.

“We will continue to fight this. We’ll go back to the bargaining table, we have been bargaining,” explains Jessica Sabol, PSEA spokeswoman.

Eyewitness News reached out to ‘First Student’ to ask about the company’s employment plans, but we haven’t heard back.

We also received the following written statements from two board members; the president who voted against the proposal, and another member who voted for it.

STATEMENT FROM RUSTY JOHNSON (VOTED AGAINST OUTSOURCING):

“I can speak for the entire Board when I tell you how hard this decision was for each of us. We spent 7 months conducting a very thorough analysis of every aspect of Pocono Mountain School District’sStudent Transportation Services and First Student’s proposal to provide those services.

The deciding factor for the majority of the Board was that First Student’s proposal offered the District greater efficiency and cost effectiveness of transportation operations than we can provide inhouse. The majority of the Board also felt there were specific provisions included in the First Student contract to ensure our families and students receive the same high quality, student-focused and safe operations as they have always received here.

No School Board wants to outsourceits services, because we have so many caring and dedicated employees. Unfortunately, budgetary challenges continue to force Districts to consider this option. As long as School District budgets are funded by property taxes and the state funds some districtsat a much higher percentage than others, you will see more and more School Boards feel forced to resort to outsourcing transportation.”

 
STATEMENT FROM JACQUELYN LEONARD (VOTED FOR OUTSOURCING):
 
“I cannot and do not speak for the board.  This is my view.
 
The decision to outsource was extremely difficult for me and I am very sympathetic to the needs of our children, employees and their families and how this might impact them. This decision was tough, however, I was elected by allof the constituency/taxpayers to represent their interests as well; and I cannot in good conscience vote to raise their taxes. We need to fight for everyones interests and outsourcing would save us approximately $4 million/year for 7 years.
 
Over the last 8 years we have decreased school property taxes 12 mils and given the seniors a double rebate, being the only school district in PA to do this. We have done our part, now we need Harrisburg to step up and do theirs. We can not continue to sustain the district without it. The lack of good pension reform, giving our school its fair share in funding, as well as; the inadequate cyber/charter school funding has placed us in a precarious position.   
 
Lastly, First Student has mentioned at our meetings that they would employee all drivers that qualify, so to say that 200 people would be losing their jobs is not accurate. There is a great potential to have a lot of the same drivers. First Student will have representatives on our campuses at all time. I believe we as a community will get through this together.”
 
 

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