School Committee hears plan to reduce busing services

By Jaime Rebhan | Mar 20, 2013
Photo by: Jaime Rebhan Bus services may be reduced next year, in an effort to close a $120,000 funding gap.

The School Department may transport fewer students next year in an effort to close the $120,000 gap between what it says it needs to run the Transportation Department at its current level, and what the cash-strapped town can provide.

Transportation Manager Jeff Tatro on Wednesday presented the School Committee with a plan that would reduce the number of buses in service from 22 to 16, and thus reduce the number of drivers necessary to transport students.

The plan would require students in grades five through 12 who live within one mile of their respective school to walk to school.

"That is one mile from front door to front door," Tatro explained.

The plan eliminates the 10 to 20 minutes of time that some drivers have between finishing their middle school bus runs and beginning their elementary school runs.

"We're now taking that 20 minutes and jamming in a run," Tatro told the School Committee. "You're going to be having these buses go go go go, and the drivers go go go."

School Committee members worried whether the bus drivers would be able to pull off such a tight schedule.

"When you need to solve a problem, you need to bring it to the people who are closest to the problem," said Superintendent Dr. Barry Rabinovitch. "Jeff Tatro went back to his drivers and sat with a group of his drivers" to see if they though the proposal would work.

Tatro reported that the drivers are on board.

"No one says this is going to be easy," Tatro noted. "It's going to be a challenge. ... But this is, honestly, a plan I think is doable."

It was the first time that Tatro had presented the fleshed out plan to the School Committee, though he'd mentioned that such a thing might work during a February meeting.

Parents affected by the plan have not yet been contacted, and School Committee members agreed that they wanted to hear from those parents before taking a vote on the proposal.

Members also worried about the safety of walkers.

"We look at this from a budgetary perspective, but I really feel in my heart of hearts, and also in my irrational brain, that it is our responsibility to transport our children," said School Committee member Cliff Sylvia. "This is all emotional for me. I can't stand the picture of a 5th grade kid walking to school down Route 6."

Member Ken Fontes was succinct, saying: "I do not support any kids walking."

Rabinovitch was prepared to ask the School Committee to approve the proposal on Wednesday, but decided after the discussion to withdraw his recommendation. School Committee members pointed out that they could see if April Town Meeting voters will approve the department's full $1.6 million request.

"I would like to respectfully withdraw this recommendation ... until after Town Meeting and we know what our numbers are," said Rabinovitch.

School Committee Chair Geoff Swett noted: "We shouldn't have any illusions about the fiscal situation changing between now and Town Meeting," but added, "I just look at this as something we have in our back pocket and if we have to use it, we have to use it."

The School Department is requesting $1.6 million to fund the transportation budget next year. It currently transports all students who wish to ride a bus. The state mandates that any student in kindergarten through 6th grade be transported if they live more than two miles from school.

In addition to reducing the funding gap, the plan would allow for the money in the Transportation Department's "revolving fund" to be saved for the purchase of much-needed buses. The "revolving fund" contains the money generated by the department through transporting other districts' students, among other things.

The proposal would affect 45 students at the high school and 83 students at the middle school (5th grade students will be housed at Wareham Middle School beginning next year). It was not clear whether any of those students, despite having the option to ride the bus now, currently choose to walk to school.

Wareham High School would start approximately 10 minutes earlier in the morning and dismiss 10 minutes earlier. Wareham Middle would start approximately five minutes later.

Comments (20)
Posted by: Andrea Smith | Mar 21, 2013 10:46

And this budget related announcement comes just as The Wareham Free Library announces (in advance of Town Meeting) that hours at the Spinney are being extended beginning April 1. Isn't 2014 the year that the town assumes the cost of running The Spinney?

Should Wareham be assuming additional costs for one department, when another is facing potential cuts such as mentioned in this article?

Posted by: rhbinma | Mar 21, 2013 14:38

Students should walk kids these days have it made. And yes I have 2 that are in school. I had to walk to school where I grew up from 1st till the end of junior high only reason I got bused for high school because I went to the vocational high,otherwise I would have had to walk.And there was no excuses that it was raining or snowing you went to school.

Posted by: Andrea Smith | Mar 21, 2013 15:51

I'm all for kids getting plenty of exercise, but not if the exercise requires walking on roads which do not offer the safety of sidewalks or roads where speed limits are 35 miles per hour and traffic averages 50 miles per hour.

Posted by: Zephyr | Mar 21, 2013 20:18

"Chicago school officials announced Thursday that they will be closing 54 school programs and 61 school buildings this year which is nearly 13% of the city’s school buildings according to the Chicago Tribune."


Maybe Wareham has too many schools.

Posted by: bob | Mar 21, 2013 21:30

best thing to do is to put the buses out to bid,then you get rid of  transportation mgr.,and his assisant,.what would that be in savings in salaries,health care,pensions etc.when 98% of towns and cities in the state does it,it got to be for a reason...

Posted by: alpert H FRITZ | Mar 22, 2013 05:36

bob you are exactly right school busing needs to be put out to bid , wareham schools are in a shambles and wareham can not afford to be in the bussing bussiness.  you are also right that 98% of mass towns put there bussing out to bid, what do they know about  school bussing that wareham does not know, appently a lot.

Posted by: rhbinma | Mar 23, 2013 08:29

To Andrea Smith please don't say that to the Wareham Police when I complained of the speeding traffic in my area I was told we don't get any other complaints.Its a 40 mph  and traffic does 50-55 especially tractor trailers.

Posted by: zinzindorff9 | Mar 23, 2013 09:48

I was surprised to read that at the meeting about the cutbacks all employees were "on board,"  Was the alternative mentioned that the only other option was selling the fleet and going "private?"

Posted by: PMB | Mar 23, 2013 11:59

Whenever the issue of school transportation is brought up, we hear a chorus of people who are of the opinion that it would be to our advantage to outsource the transportation of our children to a private company.."like everyone else in the state".  It is true that here in New England, most towns hire private contractors, however the reason is more steeped in tradition, than cost savings.  It costs a great deal to get a town run system up and operating.  Most towns don't have the money to do this, so they outsource.  The question shouldn't be why do we run our own system, it should be why don't more towns follow our lead?  In other parts of the country, municipal student transportation systems are the norm.  In the South and most of the Mid-west, virtually all of the towns and cities (in Florida it is a county system) run their own school bus systems.  What do THEY know that we don't here in New England?  Other than being a tax payer here in Wareham I have no skin in this game.  It doesn't matter a whole lot to me, personally who transports our kids....but I do know one thing for sure...if we go private we can expect poorer service at a much higher cost.  This has been the case with towns and cities all around us (Boston just cancelled their contract with First Student over poor performance).  One final question to the champions of outsourcing....when it snows and we call out the plows to clean the streets, which is cheaper to operate, a town truck driven by a town employee at an hourly wage..or a private contractor who is paid a minimum four hours for his truck and driver?  We have no choice when it snows, to hire private contractors because we don't have enough trucks  that are owned by the town to get the job done...but if we did, it would be alot cheaper than to outsource.  There are very few examples of where outsourcing jobs that were done by a government entity actually saves the taxpayers fact it is just the opposite.

Posted by: bob | Mar 24, 2013 09:02

pbm,ty for your comment,but i would ask you to ask mark gifford. he  has the equipment ,but not the for the problem boston had ,im sure they will remove the poor performance group,and to contract to a more suitable company.also i doubt that they will take over the busses....wareham has had a few poor performance drivers,and situations where busses were at locations that they were not suppose to be at.also im not againist keeping things in house ,if you have the man power,here you have to many chiefs and not enough indians.ask mark gillford..see what his dept.employees are caretakers for..busses should be put out for bid,as been mention before if 98% of towns and cities in the state doing it ,its for a reason.....and yes a know that southern states have county busing as they have county police protection,this is new england and that the way it was form years ago...

Posted by: totellthetruth | Mar 24, 2013 10:47

I wish I had more info on the school bus employees benefits. I do think they are Unionized, which if correct, should mean they get Heakth/Welfare benefits, pension, paid holidays etc.

 What I do know for sure is they hired Plow drivers get $65 hr. for a 4 hr. minimum for an 8 ft. plow.  Thats it, A new truck/plow costs about $40k, they work 4 hrs. they get $260. If they break something they pay for it out of their own pockets, MM makes NO repairs to any hired truck. Hired trucks buy their own fuel, pay their drivers, etc. That $65hr. doesn't look so good anymore, does it?

 On the other hand MM owned trucks must be maintained by the Town,drivers paid , average $ $27 hr.after 8 hrs. plus benefits. Plus Town owned plows would probably just sit idle 9 monthes of the year because theiy are just not needed.

 The comparisons between the plows and the busses are very similar.

  Also, Town owned busses cannot be rented out to private entities, so they basically sit idle all summer.  Contract busses have the privilege of performing private work, which could keep them working all year round, which could lower the cost to the Town. Case in point:  The Steamship Authority hires dozens of School busses from as far away as Taunton, for the Summer to provide Shuttle Service from its Satellite Parking lots to the Ferry Docks.

Posted by: bob | Mar 24, 2013 12:18

totellthetruth,your example has put the buses out to sea...nice ................

Posted by: PMB | Mar 24, 2013 18:17

TTTT and still haven't addressed the main point of my post.  Will outsourcing the bus contract save money and provide equal or better service?  My point that privatizing services has seldom produced a better result at a reduced price in any area is fact.  Is it cheaper for tax payers in Wareham to hire a private trash collection company (at about 30.00 per month or 360.00 per year), or would it have been cheaper to pass a permanent override (like the town of Rochester did), and provide municipal service to everyone in town?  What would you prefer, a town run ambulance service or a private contractor ambulance service. We can wait on that one until you actually require the service, then you can make you judgement.  In every area, where privatization has flourished, costs have risen and service has decreased.  The case that should make all of us take pause, is the increase in privatized prisons in this country.  We incarcerate (per capita) more people in the US than in any other country in the world, including China....and we have private, for profit companies, running many of our prisons.  The prisoners are part of the bottom line...the longer they stay in jail, the more the company makes.  Outsourcing is one of the biggest scams of the last twenty years.  It may look cheaper, but it rarely is.  One last question to TTTT...Why would a private bus company that hires out it's buses in the summer to say, the Steamship Authority, lower the cost to a town for transporting it's students during the school year?  Payment would be based on a contract and would have nothing to do with weather the bus company used it's buses in the summer or not.

Posted by: ChristianFernandes | Mar 24, 2013 22:20

If you go to, then go to school committee, then go to agendas. You'll find that January 30th, the school committee found from the bid that was proposed ,by the town adminstrator after hearing from the Transportation Action Committee, the findings of the bid that was an Apples to Apples comparrison.

According to the findings: Wareham's services run 1,883,556.00 that includes benefits, gas, school field trips and athletics.

The two bidders were:  First Student and Durham but their prices excluded school field trips and athletics.

First Student asked for 2, 395,578.20  a difference of 512,022.20

Durham asked for 2, 299,655.20 a difference of 416,099.20

Click the link below to go straight to the PDF on the school website.

Posted by: bob | Mar 25, 2013 15:34

cf,so your saying that its cheaper,what about the building,land,heating,lights,insurance,and the upkeep of the buses etc...also if 98% of the commonwealth,puts it out to bid there is a reason that they do sure these other towns,cities have done there studies and found that it is more feesable in the long run...

Posted by: PMB | Mar 25, 2013 16:33

Bob...the points you bring up.  Heat , lights etc. are expenses paid whether you are a private contractor or a town.  Actually, many of the expenses are considerably less for a town.  For example municipal fleet insurance is much cheaper than commercial fleet insurance. Another giant savings for a town run system is in fuel costs.  The town is able to purchase fuel for it's buses from the state bid list, and is not required to pay road use tax on the fuel purchased (just like fuel for the police and municipal maint. dept.).  Also, many common repair parts are purchased from the state bid list at considerable savings, and no state sales tax (tires, head lights, mufflers. etc.).  As to the question why are we one of the few towns that run our own system, I have stated in numerous posts, it is because of the enormous start up costs involved.  We were fortunate to have had a forward thinking superintendent in the early 1980's that saw the tremendous advantage of running the transportation system in-house.  It was not done because of the high cost of regular transportation (the big yellow bus fleet), but rather the rising cost of "special" transportation for handicapped students.  The laws were changing and the mandates for specialized transportation plans for students with special needs was creating a giant hole in the transportation budget.  These laws have not changed, and the burden has become even greater.  The one way to stay ahead of the curve, or at least even with it, has been to run our own bus service.  Again, whether we do or not, is up to the powers that be, but for my money as a tax payer I would much rather see us continue to invest in our own system, rather than become dependent on and at the mercy of, private contractors.  One last thought.  Check out the articles from the Boston Globe on the trouble Boston has had with it's private contractor, First Student.  About a month ago Boston canceled the remaining years on their contract with First Student because of poor performance......First Student was one of the bidders for our contract...I guess they will have plenty of buses available if they get our contract.

Posted by: ChristianFernandes | Mar 25, 2013 21:16

Bob, I'm not really sure how you read my post and thought I had put any opinion in there. Some people have posted that they should put it out to bid and I wanted to make sure everyone saw that they had. You may not like the outcome of the bid that was done but it was done and you can read if for yourself. Which is why I included the link.


Posted by: bob | Mar 31, 2013 11:00

the way i see it if 98% of the towns and cities do it, its got to be a lot better then what we have...also how was the bid posted,was it in local paper,or was it posted in big community papers,or was it just on internet or how..and as i said if 98% of the state does it there is a reason why....long therm savings...

Posted by: ChristianFernandes | Mar 31, 2013 14:56

It was brought to the school committee meeting and presented by Mr. Tatro on January 30th. They looked it over after the presentation and took it home to review. The February 13th meeting they voted not to accept the bid.


Press was present at both school committee meeetings. I remember both the Wareham Courier and Wareham Week doing stories on the bid but I don't think the board actually posted it to the papers. I could be wrong.


January 30th Meeting


February 13th Meeting

Posted by: Mike Flaherty | Apr 19, 2013 00:51

Christian, thanks for pointing folks to the full video of those meetings.  The service that you and WCTV provide to the community is invaluable.


I wrote something up about the Facts and Future of Wareham Busing that goes into a bit more detail and history on the issue.


It may be found at...


I wrote it to to answer some questions I had received and to clear up misinformation that folks may have been told. Afterall, it is a complex issue.


Unfortunately, moments after posting my article, it was met with added misinformation.


That newest misinformation is cleared up here...


Have a good weekend.


If you wish to comment, please login.