Letters, Jan. 9
Big changes being contemplated in RSU 3
Big changes may soon be coming to a bus stop near you. I was pleased to see Ben Holbrook’s recent article in The Republican Journal regarding RSU 3 plans to look into private transportation. Other than a letter to the editor written recently by Jackie Robbins, and a slight mention in Beverly Ludden’s town news column, there has been practically no mention in the media regarding the private transportation plans being considered for our school district.
Implementing private transportation will affect every single person in this district. Every parent and grandparent, every taxpayer and concerned citizen, and every member of the transportation team needs to know and be concerned whether or not this plan is adopted. Every single person in this district should be asking questions and getting answers.
Why are we considering private transportation? I asked and learned that the given answer is “for cost savings.” I am a firm believer that if you want something done right, and for the least amount of money, you need to do it yourself. Common sense tells me that hiring a for profit company (possibly from as far away as Rhode Island) to run our transportation business is not likely to save us a lot of money.
Anyone interested in looking at statistical data can find information on the state of Maine's Department of Education website. I have randomly selected three different school years to provide you with cost comparisons between private and public transportation. For the purpose of this comparison, I have not included any schools that utilize both private and public transportation as the data provided is not sufficient to determine costs by type within a school system.
Statistics show that during the 2007-2008 school year the state average cost per mile for home-to-school and school-to-home transportation, including both private and publicly operated systems, was $3.06 per mile. Private companies provided transportation for 64 school systems at an average cost of $3.53 per mile. During that same year, RSU 3 transported its students for an average cost of $2.45 per mile.
During 2008-2009 the state average per mile was $3.27. Schools that hired private transportation averaged $4.17 per mile. RSU 3 transported its students for an average cost of $2.24 per mile.
During 2011-2012 the state average cost per mile was $3.36. Schools that hired a private contractor paid an average of $4.07 per mile and RSU 3 transported its students for an average cost of $2.75 per mile.
In the fall of 2012, RSU 3 changed to a single bus run. The financial data for 2012-2013 is not yet available on the state website. However, Superintendent Perry has reported a savings in RSU 3 of more than $200,000 in transportation costs for school year 2012-2013. This represents significant savings in repairs and fuel costs as well as cuts made to driver’s salaries. In 2012, with the implementation of the single bus run, my regular hours were cut back from 7 hours to 4 hours daily. That equates to a 42 percent cut in time worked, and likewise, 42 percent less money in my paycheck for my daily runs. Every driver in RSU 3 has suffered similar pay cuts. Did anybody see this savings in their tax bill?
The job requires a commitment to be available for 2 hours in the morning and again for 2 more hours in the afternoon. If school is delayed in the morning or called off early due to weather we must rearrange our personal schedules. There is very little time available between these commitments for anyone to be able to work at another job or pursue other means of income. Whenever school is cancelled due to weather or in-service days or any of the regular weeklong vacation periods, we do not get paid.
Even though we are considered “just bus drivers,” I am pleased and proud to be a member of the RSU 3 transportation team. We have 21 bus drivers, two mechanics, two monitors and one transportation director. Our drivers and our monitors are on the road every day. The commitment they have to the students and families they serve goes far beyond driving to and from school. They notice and take care of so many small details: fix a backpack, zip a jacket, and find owners for lost hats, boots, mittens and toys. They notice if somebody does not have necessary clothing and frequently offer “spares” to keep a child warm. They are familiar with people who are normally in the area and take note of strangers. They are always on the lookout for potential hazards or dangers for the children. The key point I am making is that they notice and they care, and they do whatever they can to help. Safety and comfort are always top priority.
Both mechanics have many years experience. They maintain our buses to the highest of standards. Both are licensed bus drivers and ready to serve as needed on a moments notice. They are our angels and we all appreciate their constant hard work and devotion to keeping our buses running safely.
Before driving your child’s bus, every driver must pass a state CDL exam and meet additional requirements for a school bus endorsement. This includes a written exam, a road test, a physical exam, a drug and alcohol test and a criminal background check. In addition to this, every driver, monitor and mechanic is required to attend additional training sessions on a regular basis. These cover a wide variety of subjects and may cover anything from the proper and safe way to clean up vomit, to bus safety, to discipline, to First Aid and CPR and ways to identify and prevent bullying. The list is extensive.
Our drivers are not doing this job in hopes of getting rich on bus wages. We are people who have learned ways to manage time and resources in order provide a service that is needed and we enjoy doing. When RSU 3 returned to a single bus system in 2012, we all recognized that we’d be taking a large pay cut. We also recognized that it was (or should have been) a viable means to save the taxpayers a significant amount of money. We bit the bullet, put a smile on our face, and continued working because it was the right thing to do.
Finally, we are all extremely fortunate to have a super guy who serves as our transportation director. Born and raised right here in our district, he knows the roads and the people. He has a thorough knowledge of bus routes, times, families, student special needs, etc. He goes above and beyond in his effort to serve the students, the school staff, the transportation team and the people of RSU 3.
He has proven himself to be an energetic and highly motivated leader. He sets high standards for himself as well as his employees. He leads by example. His work day begins as early as the buses are on the road. He is ready to advise or help with any event. When we arrive at school he is on the front sidewalk to meet every bus as it arrives. He notices arrival times and watches buses for potential mechanical problems, lights that are not working and tires that might need to be replaced.
Under his watchful eye, student behavior has improved remarkably. Whenever there have been issues with behavior or discipline, he has been available immediately. He has spent countless hours watching bus videos in order to get to the facts of any matter. When he notes behavior problems, he deals with them promptly and effectively.
He is fair. He is patient. He supports our drivers, and he does not play favorites. He does not leave the job in the afternoon until every driver has reported in and the last student has been safely delivered home. We all know that if we should need information or assistance he will be there.
Our boss has been on the job for only three years, but he has already made remarkable improvements in the RSU transportation department. In my humble opinion (and I think the entire team would agree) the transportation system that we have right now is providing the best work environment, the most efficient route schedules, the best behavior management, and the most cost effective measures that I have ever seen in all of the years that I have been working here. All of these improvements could be wiped out with the stroke of a pen. Some of our drivers have already left in anticipation of privatization. Is it realistic to think, hope or expect that any of us will still be around (or come back) if this experiment does not work out?
So finally, to sum it all up, we have dedicated drivers and monitors. We have first-class mechanics. We have a supervisor that goes above and beyond. Our bus safety and student behavior is at an all time high. We have consistently done all of this at a cost per mile that is lower than the state average and significantly lower than the average cost per mile of schools using private transportation. Why on earth would anyone even think of trying to “fix” a system that it is already serving us so well and operating the best it has been in the past 40 years?
New Year's bonfire a success
For many years New Year's By the Bay has had the Belfast Drum and Rabble Marching Society meet up under the traffic light just before midnight where we noisily march down to the waterfront to light the bonfire at the stroke of midnight. This year, colder than some, but not the coldest by any measurement, was a great success. A very few people make this event possible: Viking Lumber and Dave Flanagan save us and donate a choice, dry, bundle of really burnable wood each year and deliver it. Thank you Viking Lumber for exemplifying community. The Belfast Re-Entry Center has had a group of volunteers help us build the bonfire each year and they are a godsend. Deputy Tim Parker Jr. helped too. Thank you, guys, even though they have had to be in bed at midnight and miss the bonfire. A small number of hands-on people including Bre Bebb of Our Town Belfast and artist, teacher, newspaper courier, and Ollie Tamer Dave Hurley were critical. The Belfast Police handles the whole crazy thing with grace. Thankfully we have never had to call upon our ever ready friends at the Belfast Fire Department. To all the drummers and noisemakers who truly “get it” and make it happen, thank you. We’ll see you next year. And to Mary Mortier and New Years By The Bay, thank you for a great time.
Does art imitate life or does life imitate art?
"There is something going on around here, what it is ain't exactly clear. There's a man with a gun over there, telling me I've got to beware. Stop! children what's that sound? Everybody look what's going down."
Television serials being made today are about people coping with a society that has fallen apart. "Revolution" is a show about survival in a world without electricity. One day the power goes out and nobody knows why. I saw the distress and coping in my neighborhood when we lost power for three days in the recent ice storm. People were stressed. The show "Walking Dead' is about the end of the world with flesh-eating zombies, and people try to cope, they are stressed.
"4400" is a serial about 4,400 people who had been abducted over a fifty-year period and then returned all at the same time. They each returned with a unique special power. They had been abducted by people on earth from the future and returned in an attempt to change the world today because their world had been used and abused to oblivion. What is going on here? It's not exactly clear. Is somebody trying to tell us something?
So what's the solution?
"Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings on a single bound. Look up in the sky! It's a bird; it's a plane; It's Superman!" Superman, a strange visitor from another planet with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men can bend steel in his bare hands, and disguised as Clark Kent, a mild mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way.
We may all have to become a superhuman in the near future. Fukushima nuclear power plant is exploding radioactivity into the air we breath, the fish we eat and the water we drink. Parents need to be concerned about their children's thyroid malfunctioning, which is not good. What have we done to ourselves and to our grandchildren?
"Stop! children what's that sound? Everybody look what's going down."