Kent County Schools Will Cancel Bus Contract

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Reliable Transportation of Baltimore school buses parked at the former bowling alley on Route 213 in Queen Anne’s County 

A resolution to the school bus crisis is on the way.

At the Kent County Board of Education meeting on Sept. 18, Superintendent Karen Couch announced that the school system and Reliable Transportation of Baltimore have reached an agreement in principle to cancel their current contract. While details are still being worked out by lawyers for both sides, the school system has already begun transitioning to the new school bus system. At Superintendent Couch’s request, the board passed a motion to authorize the on-going final negotiations with Reliable.

By Monday morning, Sept 18, Couch said, there were already six buses on the road hired directly by Kent County Public Schools through contractors or individual owner/drivers.   All the buses meet both state and county safety standards with all required equipment installed. With more direct hires in the works, Couch stated that there is still a need for at least 14 more buses which Kent County Public Schools (KCPS) will purchase.

Until the new buses arrive, Reliable will continue to pick up children on the routes not covered by the drivers hired directly by the school district. The school board did not have a time line for the new buses to be in service as of the Monday meeting. They are still considering possible short-term options including borrowing buses – especially special needs buses – from other school systems.

Many of the bus drivers from Reliable will be offered driver positions as the new buses come in. This model of school transportation, in which a school system owns some buses and hires drivers directly, while other buses are supplied by independent contractors who own one or more buses, is known as a hybrid. Caroline, Talbot, and Queen Anne’s counties all have hybrid systems, while Wicomico owns all its own buses.

Reliable knows of the school board’s plans and has agreed to have its buses and drivers used until the school district can transition to their new buses. Couch said that cancellation of the contract with Reliable was despite the company’s best’ efforts and due to circumstances beyond their control. Reliable is committed to a smooth transition, she said.

The county will still need to hire more drivers, some of whom will probably be unfamiliar with the routes, so some of the problems such as late pick-ups and drop-offs may continue during the transition. Three buses will be available for field trips and athletics — an improvement over last year, when only two buses were available, which often made for scheduling difficulties.

Superintendent of Schools Karen Couch

The school plans to buy the additional 14 buses, two of which are special needs buses, for a total of no more than $1.5 million. KCPS will piggy-back the contract with one from another local school district. City National Capital will provide the loan at 2.15 percent interest for 10 years. The deal is a lease-purchase, so the county will own the buses at the end of the 10 years. The lease/purchase agreement is expected to cost $168,000 per year, which is within the school’s current transportation budget. There is no penalty for early repayment. Interest over the 10 years will amount to an estimated $183,000. As the average life of a school bus is 15 years, this may give the district five more years with only maintenance costs. The school district is hoping to join the county’s bulk fuel purchase program to minimize fuel costs.

 

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