Beaver drivers concerned about consortium

CALCUTTA – A meeting of the Beaver Local Transportation Committee, including board members, that had been requested by transportation supervisor Jaye Cochran was held Wednesday. A subsequent request she made was less easily quantified, however.

The main focus of the meeting was the Columbiana County Transportation Shared Services Consortium, which the board had voted to join at its May 7 meeting.

Superintendent Kent Polen stressed the costs savings available to BLSD in joining the consortium with Lisbon schools, the county Mental Health and Recovery Services Board and county Education Service Center.

While Polen stated some bus routes would likely be eliminated, they would not necessarily lead to job losses. He mentioned one bus driver who has bid to become a school custodian, and another who may resign for health reasons after classes finish for the year.

There are currently 25 active district routes within the district. Based upon the average salary and benefits for a bus driver, Polen projected savings of $20,000 to $30,000 for each cut route. “That savings in my mind can go back toward the students education.”

Polen says service can actually be improved while increasing services to students and parents through such means as new routing software to help manage bus routes more efficiently.

Polen also stressed that under the consortium, bus drivers will continue to be district employees. “Our drivers will remain Beaver Local drivers,” he said, though they will be allowed, at their discretion, to drive with partner districts as a substitute driver when not needed, such as for a weekend trip. Conversely, other districts may allow their drivers to serve as a substitute for BL when a backup driver is needed here. In either case, the drivers would be paid the rate of the district they are subbing with, he said.

Eventually, Cochran asked for an executive session, which had not originally been scheduled. Board members initially balked at her request, but finally agreed, voting to enter executive session before stating a reason for the session. Shortly after board members left the meeting room, however, district Treasurer Robert Barrett returned and said the session was being held for “charges or complaints against an employee,” with no further details given.

A small group of parents, grandparents and bus drivers attended the meeting, hoping to speak with board members and Cochran following the meeting, some with complaints. Being a committee meeting, there was no public participation. Some talked among themselves while waiting out the executive session.

One was Budd Adkins, whose grandchildren attend West Point Elementary and the middle school. He said there have been numerous instances this school year where a replacement driver has left the children waiting for long periods outside in inclement weather.

“Our kids are left out there hanging in the winter – the last time it was raining,” Adkins said. “We called the school and wanted to know where Bus 28 was, and they had no idea.”

Adkins stressed that he was not upset with the regular driver on the route, Debbie Bowersock, who has taken time off for medical reasons this school year, but with what he identified as a lack of competence with assigning a replacement driver.

When the committee reconvened in public session, no action was taken, and the meeting was adjourned.