By Rick Palsgrove
Groveport Madison Schools will have a new student transportation provider next school year.
At its May 25 meeting, the Groveport Madison Board of Education voted to terminate its bus transportation contract with Petermann Transportation and then approved contracting with Community Bus Service to be the new bus provider.
The contract with Petermann was terminated effective May 30. Petermann will cease operating in the District on May 31.
The district’s contract with Community Bus Service begins July 1, 2022, and expires on June 30, 2025. Groveport Madison will pay Community Bus Service $6.34 million for the yearly home-to-school service provided for the initial year of the contract (including the cost of fuel up to predetermined thresholds). Additional expenses will also be incurred to handle field trips and activities and other trips outside the normal daily bussing services and providing attendants (bus aides) for special education routes).
“The company will immediately begin its recruiting efforts,” said Groveport Madison Communications Director Jeff Warner. “Drivers’ starting pay will be $27 per hour. Health insurance, including major medical, dental, and vision plans will be available, as will a retirement program and company-paid life insurance.”
When asked about the status of the current bus drivers, Warner said, “Petermann Transportation employs all current bus drivers and aides, not Groveport Madison Schools. Community Bus Service will immediately begin recruiting bus drivers and aides. Many of the bus drivers from Petermann may wish to remain as drivers on Groveport Madison routes. CBS strongly encourages any such people to apply for open positions with their company.”
Bus drivers question action
The change of bus transportation providers at Groveport Madison Schools raised concerns among the bus drivers and monitors.
Several bus drivers and monitors spoke at the Groveport Madison Board of Education’s May 11 meeting about the district’s plans to change bus companies. They said they feel like they are “in limbo” and are experiencing stress and anxiety because of the unknowns related to the bus company change. Among the concerns they mentioned are the status of their: wages, job security, life insurance, personal time off, health insurance, paid holidays, snow days, union representation, seniority, safety, lack of communication between district officials and bus drivers, what would the proposed new bus company offer them, and if the drivers will be hired by the proposed new transportation provider.
Shirley Whightsel, a 41-year bus driver, said, “We are all members of Teamsters Local 284 and we negotiated a contract with Petermann Transportation. We hope Community Bus Service will recognize our local to ensure a continuous working relationship. The drivers and monitors care about our jobs. We care about our kids. We haul precious cargo every day.”
Frances Braswell, a monitor, expressed concern about the lack of communication from district officials about the proposed bus service change.
“It was told to us you would come talk to us. That we are part of the team. Well, we certainly don’t feel like part of the team,” said Braswell.
Regarding the proposed bus service change from Petermann Transportation to Community Bus Service, Braswell added, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.”
Warner said the board and the district administration believe providing reliable, on-time student transportation service and real-time communications with the school district and building-level leadership as non-negotiable performance measures that must be met.
“Once full-time classes resumed this school year, the district experienced repeated significant problems with student transportation, including unexpected route cancellations, missed or excessively late student pick-ups/drop-offs, unacceptable follow-up regarding parent and administrator concerns, and poor communication concerning bus accidents and other operational issues,” said Warner. “Throughout the school year, the district diligently worked to assist Petermann in fulfilling its obligations. As time went on, it became more evident that Petermann was struggling with issues beyond just staffing its bus routes. There were organizational inefficiencies in how routes had been planned and insufficient office staff to respond to parent and district concerns.”
Warner said, to assist temporarily, the district brought in two former school district operations directors to assess the operation and offer recommendations for improvement.
He said most of the recommendations were never implemented by Petermann.
“With cancellations and delays continuing into December, it was agreed the district would take the unprecedented step of moving our preschool students and 6-12 students to a remote online learning model for the week before winter break,” said Warner. “This was done to give Petermann more time to combine and reassign bus routes, complete the training and onboarding of new drivers, and address other operational needs. Even given this additional time, the district continued to experience widespread bus route cancellations and delays getting students to and from school each day.”
He said, with no real solutions coming from Petermann Transportation, “the district determined it was necessary to pursue legal remedies and request transportation services proposals from other providers.”
In a response in early May, Edward Flavin, vice president of external communications for Petermann, stated, “We have had the opportunity to serve Groveport Madison Schools for over a decade and value our partnership in serving that community. It is our policy not to comment further at this time, other than to say that we look forward to continuing to serve the students of the Groveport Madison community.”