Several people in yellow shirts filled the room inside Carroll County Public Schools’ central office building during the Wednesday night board of education meeting. They were bus contractors and drivers requesting increased funding.
The four people speaking for the drivers and contractors were critiquing the funding formula and advocating for benefits. They said the per vehicle allotment, or PVA, which pays for the contracted buses, needs upgrading.
Dianne Grote, president of the Carroll County School Bus Contractors Association, spoke during public comment at the meeting “to request consideration for our reimbursement formula to be upgraded and brought to a current level.”
Grote said the drivers and contractors have been resilient throughout the pandemic despite the challenges. However, she and other drivers or contractors who spoke that night said the change in PVA affected the contractors and driver’s livelihood.
One driver who spoke during the meeting noted how they love the kids but cannot maintain a living without seeking assistance. And noted drivers are leaving Carroll to work in other counties. The contractors of Johnson Bus Service LLC said they have taken four deductions in PVA since becoming contractors, and noted the need for health benefits. And Irene Savage of Savage Transportation LLC said the changed PVA has her questioning how much longer she can stay in business.
“We are taking the largest risk and don’t receive much reward,” she said.
Jon O’Neal, chief of operations officer for the school system, said CCPS pays bus contractors for their service of each bus route through the transportation reimbursement formula, which is approved by the board of education each year. The formula for fiscal year 2022 was approved in May.
Within the formula are different components, he said, including PVA. He said it’s the portion of the formula the system gives as reimbursement to offset the purchase of the bus. A profit is given to the contractor each year for the expected 12-year lifespan of the vehicle.
Documents from the May 12 board of education meeting showed the PVA for regular education buses from years one through five was just over $20,000 for 2021 and set for a little over $18,000 in 2022. For buses within their sixth and 12th year, the price was over $17,000 in 2021 and set for $15,327 for 2022.
The PVA for special education buses that are between one and five years old was $23,000 in 2021 and nearly $21,000 for 2022. The special education buses between six and 12 years old was close to $20,000 for 2021 and $17,675 in 2022. Drivers receive $23.83 an hour while assistants receive $17.70.
Approving the formula only needs a sign-off from the board, though contractors can see it beforehand, O’Neal said.
“They provide an excellent service to us and we’re happy with our relationship with them,” he said. “We have an interest in working things out with them as well.”
He noted the ongoing driver shortage in Carroll and Maryland. He added he wouldn’t be surprised if the shortage was national.
O’Neal said staff formed a committee with the contract association “to try to take a look at the formula.” They had a meeting before and one coming up.
O’Neal said changes to the formula happened after an audit during fiscal year 2019. The PVA was one of the changes made. He said it clearly was not favorable to the drivers and contractors but other changes made were favorable to them.
Even still, O’Neal said the drivers provide a great service, “if not the best service” and a “top-notch transportation system.”
“And we want to have and strive to have a very positive business partnership with them,” he said.
Drivers were not the only ones calling for more that day. Dozens of educators wearing red rallied outside the school demanding salary increases for the ongoing negotiations. However, Board Member Donna Sivigny said Wednesday night the board has provided a 23% increase in the last five years to the Carroll County Education Association.
Superintendent Steve Lockard said in an email Thursday they have received a step increment each year for those five years and cost of living increases for four of the five years. He also noted the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future will also bring significant changes to teacher pay over the next decade.
CCEA said they filed an impasse with the the Public School Labor Relations Board, or PSLRB, during ongoing negotiations with the school system and Lockard noted CCPS has not yet been contacted about whether a formal impasse exists or not. He also noted the board’s budget delayed to request additional ongoing funds for the system. Though it was not granted, $1 million was allotted to CCPS as one-time funds to go to non-administrative employee groups.
Lockard noted that teachers are important and he values the work they do. Although the year has been challenging, he said they are appreciative of educators’ efforts.
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“Throughout the budget process, the board reaffirmed our commitment to employee compensation,” he said. “And while we cannot comment on specific negotiating items, we have worked with that premise in mind.”