Regional School Unit 3 board members decided not to pursue options to privatize transportation services in the district, and also voted against further studying the closure of either Monroe Elementary School or Morse Memorial.

Board Chairman Phil Shibles said board members voted not to contract with a third-party company to provide transportation services for the district during a meeting Monday, Jan. 13. The district had solicited and received bids from three companies to provide transportation services for the district, Shibles said.

Superintendent Heather Perry said the district received bids from Durham School Services, Luce Transportation and STA Ledgemere Transportation. According to figures provided by Perry, Durham submitted a bid of $899,803; Luce bid $1,055,295; and STA Ledgemere bid $1,288,987 to provide transportation services to the district.

She said if RSU 3 contracted with Durham, the district could have saved about $65,000 in the first year of the contract, with the potential to save up to $130,000 in the following year. However, Perry noted the district has saved about $300,000 by switching to single-run bus routes.

Discussion about hiring a third-party company to handle transportation began after a resident asked administrators and board members during a public hearing on the proposed 2013-2014 budget whether such a move could save the district money.

When the district solicited bids from interested parties, it asked that any companies that submit bids hire the district's existing bus drivers for at least the first year of the contract, and that the company lease RSU 3's bus fleet and maintenance garage.

Perry previously told The Republican Journal the district could save money in terms of maintenance costs for the bus fleet and on administrative costs associated with managing the district's transportation services.

However, she also cautioned the district would lose control over some aspects of the transportation services by contracting with a third-party company, such as with which fuel vendor is selected.

Shibles said board members heard from a number of people about the proposal to consider third-party transportation services and that no one spoke in favor of doing so. Shibles added that the savings the district could realize from switching to a third-party service did not justify making any changes.

School closure

Board members were also asked to consider studying either Monroe Elementary or Morse Memorial for possible closure. The issue was brought before the board during a previous meeting in December after a recommendation by the district's building committee suggested doing a more in-depth study of the issue.

According to previously published reports, the district would form a committee comprised of parents, teachers, principals and other stakeholders in the town where the school would be closed. That stakeholder committee would be responsible for completing a detailed report that would address possible cost savings, as well as how closing a school would impact the district.

The report would then be presented to the school board, which would determine whether to move forward with the school closure process.

Because of the scope of work involved with completing the report, Perry previously said she wanted board members to choose either Monroe or Morse for possible closure, but not both schools.

Currently, there are 66 students enrolled at Monroe Elementary and 104 students enrolled at Morse Memorial.

According to Perry's estimates, closing Monroe Elementary could save the district about $268,500, and closing Morse Memorial could save about $395,000. However, Perry stressed that the estimates she provided to board members were preliminary figures only.

The district considered closing Monroe in 2011 and determined doing so would save about $210,000. However, the majority of the stakeholder committee cited the fact that while the education that students receive at Monroe could be “transported to another school, the more intrinsic values of place may not be transplanted to another school,” according to previously published reports.

The stakeholder group also stated the availability of about 20 acres of land adjacent to the school would be difficult to replace and that the district could potentially realize savings in the future, while still keeping Monroe open.

Shibles said board members voted not to complete a more in-depth report regarding the closure of either school.

“The board was reluctant to close any schools,” Shibles said.

While the board chose not to study school closures at this time, Perry said it is possible the issue will come up again in the future. To that end, she encouraged residents to attend the budget meetings in the spring and share their thoughts with board members and the administration.