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State to study schools’ student transportation

By Harold Gwin

Friday, February 12, 2010

By Harold Gwin

YOUNGSTOWN — The Ohio Department of Education will conduct a study of the Youngstown City School District’s student-transportation program in an effort to help the district find a way to reduce costs.

The study, which will take about a month, appears to bring an end to a dispute between the Youngstown school board and the state fiscal oversight commission controlling district spending while Youngstown remains in state- mandated fiscal emergency.

The school board has been trying to award a contract for transportation support services to Community Bus Services Inc. that it believes will save the district $500,000 a year, but the commission has been critical of the request for proposals used by the school board to get bids on that contract.

The dispute was expected to come to a head Thursday when the commission was supposed to vote on the CBS contract approved by the school board Tuesday. However, it never came up for a vote.

A meeting between some of the commission members, school authorities and Ohio Department of Education representatives officials in Columbus on Wednesday resulted in an agreement to pull the contract from the commission’s agenda and delay any consideration of it until after ODE’s Pupil Transportation Office does its study.

Anthony Catale, school board president, said state senators Joe Schiavoni of Canfield, D-33rd, and Tom Patton of Strongsville, R-24th, arranged the impromptu session in Columbus.

During that meeting, Pete Japikse, associate director of ODE’s Pupil Transportation Office, offered to put a team together to come to Youngstown and examine the district’s transportation program, costs and data to verify the accuracy of cost numbers the district has been using, Catale said. The district said it is spending about $4 million a year on transportation.

It’s an effort that ODE says can be completed within about a month, hopefully before the oversight commission’s scheduled April 22 meeting, Catale said.

The idea is to get a set of base numbers and provide a revised and coordinated effort to save money in a noninstructional area that won’t adversely affect academics, Catale said.

He said he asked the oversight commission to delay any vote on the CBS contract while ODE does its study, and the commission agreed.

Catale also said he will likely ask the school board to rescind Tuesday’s action awarding the contract to CBS.

Terry Thomas, CBS president, also attended the meeting in Columbus and said Thursday that he has no problem with the change in plans.

“This is good. Collaboration is always better than adversity,” he said.

Roger Nehls, oversight-commission chairman, said the commission never had a problem with the intent or desired outcome of the board regarding the effort to save on transportation costs but had a concern with the method the board used to pursue those savings.

Both sides agreed to step back, look at the needs and possible savings, and work together to find a solution, he said.

Catale said the two sides established that neither wants an adversarial relationship as the district works to emerge from fiscal emergency, and both sides recognize the goals of cost savings in the area of transportation.