Youngstown school board OKs busing-services contract

The oversight commission has criticized the method used to reach the contract.

By Harold Gwin

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Youngstown City School Board president Anthony Catale

YOUNGSTOWN — The city school board approved a transportation-services contract supposed to save the district $500,000 a year, but whether a state fiscal-oversight commission controlling district spending will approve it remains to be seen.

The board voted 5-2 Tuesday to approve the contract with Community Bus Services Inc.

The oversight commission will consider it at 11 a.m. Thursday, but Roger Nehls, commission chairman, has said in the past that he would oppose the package. He said the request for proposals the school board used to secure bids for the contract lacked specificity and was “shoddy” and “one-sided.”

Anthony Catale, school board president, said he thinks the district has addressed the commission’s concerns.

The original version of the contract proposed by CBS has been tossed, and a new agreement drafted by Atty. Ted Roberts, representing the district, was signed by CBS, Catale said.

It spells out that various computer software for bus routing, maintenance and transportation payroll as well as digital video- recording/global-positioning system units to be installed in 60 district buses will become district property immediately.

There is no charge for the equipment from CBS, and the company guarantees a $500,000 savings off the district’s annual $4 million transportation cost, he said.

In return, the contract extends a special-needs student-busing contract already held by CBS for an additional five years through June 30, 2016.

That contract, now in the second of its three years, started at $1.6 million and increases by 3.8 percent each year.

However, if the $500,000 savings fails to materialize in any given year, the contract extension will be cut by one year. The school board alone will determine if the savings mark is reached, Catale said.

The district will retain total control of operations, but CBS will be making some operational recommendations for the school board to consider.

Catale said the district is getting all of the computer software and other equipment at no cost, material that the oversight commission wants the district to buy.

The board would be doing “a disservice to the taxpayers” if it ignored the transportation savings and free equipment the contract will provide, he said.

Not everyone agrees with the plan. Board members Lock P. Beachum Sr., Michael Murphy, June Drennen and Rachel Hanni joined Catale in approving the contract, but Richard Atkinson and Andrea Mahone cast dissenting votes.

Atkinson said there is still some confusion over the contract, and he is not comfortable with it. Mahone said she has reservations about the agreement and has questioned the wisdom of challenging the oversight commission on the issue.

The commission was appointed to control district spending after Youngstown was placed in fiscal emergency by the state in November 2006 after announcing its general fund was running a deficit.

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