MANCHESTER, N.H. – Beginning in September, the Manchester School District will have two organizations operating its school buses.
During Monday night’s Manchester Board of School Committee (BOSC) meeting, approval was reached on a three-year contract with Student Transportation of America (STA) to handle 50 percent of the Manchester School District’s school bus needs, including all extra-curricular transportation.
The move came after it was determined that the Manchester Transportation Authority (MTA), which operates the city’s municipal bus network in addition to providing school buses, would be unable meet all the district’s transportation needs. However, MTA will still provide the other 50 percent of the district’s bus needs as well as all HR services related to buses. No bids were made after requests for proposals to find one company to provide all the district’s transportation needs.
At-Large BOSC Member James O’Connell voted against the proposal, preferring that the district follow the lead of Worcester, Mass., regarding school bus needs, where the school district now manages bus service. However, his concerns were mildly allayed when he was told that any STA buses used in Manchester would not be used by other school districts. Still, he voiced concerns over two separate pay scales for the two separate companies and the impact that may have on morale and retention of school bus drivers. Manchester School District Superintendent Dr. Jenn Gillis and Manchester School District Network Director Forrest Ransdell indicated that STA would have a one-year non-compete clause with MTA drivers to avoid any employee poaching.
Ransdell and Gillis also replied to a question from Ward 10 BOSC Member Gary Hamer regarding a possible change in the number of buses required of STA by the district within the first 60 days of the school year, noting that this figure was in place due to possible unexpected enrollment shifts.
Ward 4 BOSC Member Leslie Want acknowledged O’Connell’s concerns, but noted that the school district already outsources many services to city departments, something that the Manchester School District can do given the scale of population compared to other areas of the state with fewer resources.
“If any city can do it, it’s Manchester,” she said.
Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig believed that an annual review between STA and the district scheduled for next May was too late and asked if it could be placed in March instead, with Gillis indicating that would be feasible.
A separate measure that would require students to use ID cards to get onto school buses is going back to committee after confusion over how far the ID requirement would extend.
Ward 1 BOSC Member Julie Turner was unclear how enforceable the policy was, whether it would be just a pilot program, and what schools would be implementing the policy. While the policy was in committee, there was also confusion over whether it would be required for students to enter school-sponsored sporting events.
Ransdell told the board that ID cards are a matter of safety, particularly at the city’s high schools where it can be impossible for adult staff members to identify which children should or should not be on campus given that there are 1,100 people on campus at any given time.
He told the board that this was the standard in several other school districts, such as Londonderry.
There were concerns over how needed this measure would be at the elementary school level, with Ward 11 BOSC Member Dr. Nicole Leapley feeling that it could create an atmosphere of mistrust between younger students and adults. Ransdell noted that there are already ID cards for elementary students used at lunches, which are held by teachers during other times.
Last week when the measure was in committee, Want also expressed concerns over the cost of the new IDs when she was told that each school would need its own specialized printer to print out the logos of each school onto the cards.
At-Large BOSC Member Peter Argeropoulos felt that the idea would be a culture shift, but supported the idea as long as the IDs were visible at all times on a lanyard.
Ward 5 BOSC Member Jason Bonilla also liked the idea, feeling it would help prevent students from unnecessarily being turned away from entering schools while also protecting students from potential gun violence from those impersonating students.