Transportation problems factor into RSU 71 budget planning

By Fran Gonzalez | Apr 04, 2019

Belfast — Superintendent Mary Alice McLean said at the Regional School Unit 71 budget workshop on Monday, "We need to look at what we can do differently in both transportation and maintenance," as a result of district buses being removed from service last month because of a wide range of defects.

Buses that failed a surprise State Police inspection March 6 included buses 1, 10, 11, 20, 21 and 24, according to reports released to The Republican Journal by police.

Each inspection was signed by Director of Transportation and Maintenance Kevin McAvoy, whom McLean placed on leave pending an investigation. The mechanic for the district also was placed on leave, and McLean at the time declined to name the mechanic. Interim personnel, all of whom were previously employed by the district, remain in place and no further information has been released about the investigation.

McLean on April 1 recommended splitting up the current director of transportation position, which oversees the maintenance of the buses, into two director positions with one overseeing transportation and the other maintenance.

McLean said currently the district is advertising for a director of transportation and maintenance "in hopes that we may be able to find a person that can do both. That remains to be seen."

Maintenance, she said, is "a serious problem," adding more work needs to be done on the part of the person directing, supervising and managing.

Director Scott Cournoyer said the combined position was "way too much work for one person to do, and it never should have been one person."

Someone asked what qualifications the position requires. McLean said the district needs someone who can "organize, manage, direct, supervise and write evaluations."

The district is also looking for a head mechanic, who also would be licensed to drive a bus and certified to inspect buses.

Director of Finance Chandra Hodgdon said ideally there should be two people in the bus garage to perform all the services related to bus operations.  "Quite often, as has been seen," she said, "the transportation director is driving a bus," and filling in when no other drivers are available. Earlier this year, Nickerson school in Swanville was closed for a day when there were not enough bus drivers to transport students. At the time, McLean said a shortage of substitute drivers was to blame.

McLean said, "You need to have somebody in the garage ... someone that wears another hat, that while fixing buses can answer the phone and answer questions."

One director asked if an administrative person who could answer phones, process invoices and order supplies might be a better fit for the second position at the garage.

McLean said, "Right now we're waiting to see who we get. There is four or five models we've looked at. We've put this one into the budget but we'll update you as more information becomes available."

Budget discussions are still in the early stages. Typically, voters attend a public hearing on the budget at the end of May, which, if approved, is later validated at the polls in June.

The next RSU 71 Board of Directors budget meeting is scheduled for Monday, April 8, at 5 p.m. at Troy Howard Middle School.  All workshops and meetings are open to the public.

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