Transportation continues to be a hot button issue in the Penn Hills School District. The school board’s approval Monday night to spend $23,000 to buy a transportation management software package sparked comments from the audience and board members.
“How do we have to pay for transportation software when we outsource the transportation?” asked Erin Vecchio of Garlow Drive.
“You were wrong to get rid of the bus drivers in the first place. You replaced them with scabs and hired a company that doesn’t do their job. This is going to cost the taxpayers a lot more money.” said Mrs. Vecchio, a former Penn Hills school board member.
Bill McLarnon, director of student services, explained the school district still owns the routes and provides them to First Student Inc., the bus company.
“We build the routes and we give them to the vendor. This software will help us build routes that are more efficient and save money,” he told the board. In addition to buying transportation software, the school board also gave the administration the go ahead to let bids for transportation services for the 2014-15 school year.
“Did anyone do research on Versatrans [the transportation software]?” asked Jim Berent of Springwood Drive. Mr. Berent was a school bus driver for Penn Hills for more than 20 years. “We built those routes in the past because we know you can’t use MacGregor Drive for school buses and you can’t make a right turn from some roads onto others. There is not a software system out there that won’t require map correction,” Mr. Berent said. He told the board that because the software package supports global positioning software tracking capabilities, bids for transportation service providers should include buses equipped with GPS transmitters.
“When we talked about this last fall, we did not want First Student to buy the software. Now we are putting the cart before the horse,” said board member Heather Hoolahan. “If we are going to be bidding out buses, we should move forward on that process and the software should be a part of that process.”
Student transportation has been debated all year. In November, tempers spilled over when frustrated residents told stories of children being left at school or buses failing to arrive. Representatives of the bus company attended the meeting.
In other matters, the school board approved a recommendation by the administration to submit an application for the state’s Tax Payer Relief Act, known as Act 1 for 2014. Act 1 Tax Relief allows a school district to forgo preparing a preliminary budget by agreeing not to raise taxes above the Act 1 tax index, which is set by the state in September of the preceding year.
The Act 1 index for 2014 is 2.4 mills. While the school district is not obligated to raise taxes, it is required to abide by the Act 1 cap unless granted an exemption.
Having passed the Act 1 resolution, the district has five days to submit information on the proposed tax rate for 2014 to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The department has 10 days to inform the district whether its proposed tax rate complies with the 2014 Act 1 index. If it does, the school district will not have to submit a preliminary budget. If it does not, the district will have to submit a preliminary budget by the end of February.
Tim Means, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.