The current contract with Quigley Bus Service Inc. of Bally expires June 30. The district received offers from six companies bidding for a three-year transportation contract.

For the 2006-07 school year, the BCIU tendered the lowest bid at $2,997,900, a cost that would pay for a fleet of 101 buses. Quigley offered the next lowest bid at $3,651,912, followed by Laidlaw Transportation's bid at $3,856,122.

Boyertown Area School District Business Manager David Szablowski said school district administration has recommended awarding the contract to BCIU because of the proposed financial savings, the positive references from other districts, the BCIU's established management and training program and the Global Positioning System available on all BCIU buses.

The recommendation has vexed many Quigley bus drivers, who packed the Feb. 28 board meeting at Colebrookdale Elementary School.

Bus driver Leonard Good of Boyertown received a supportive round of applause from the audience when he spoke about the well-trained drivers and exemplary job Quigley does with transporting students.

"If you award the bus contract to BCIU, you will hurt a local business and the bus drivers," Quigley bus driver Chris Neiman said. "We have lost so many jobs here - you shouldn't kill off what is left. I urge the board to support free enterprise in the community by awarding the bid to a business in the community."

Brian Quigley, vice president of the bus company, told the board that Quigley has been serving the district since 1955 and that if there are "any issues, let us know and we'll handle it." Quigley, who is also a driver, says the company's system works.

Comparing the numbers, Szablowski said the school district would save about $368,987 the first year with the BCIU contract. By the end of three years, he said the savings would be about $965,389.

However, some school board members were skeptical about the BCIU's numbers and wanted more information. They unanimously agreed to table the matter until the next board meeting on March 14.

"What happens if the IU can't live up to its contract," board member John H. Kauffman III asked. "We should ask for a performance bond and make sure all of their costs will be covered."

School district solicitor Jeffrey Sultanik said the BCIU would be responsible for its contractual obligations, similar to any private company.

A performance bond would cover expenses of any company that does not meet its contract obligations. Szablowski said obtaining such a bond would

cost about $50,000 or more per year for the district.

"We have to look at what we are doing to local people if they lose their jobs,"

Kauffman said, noting that even if the BCIU would hire some of the drivers they would not receive the same compensation and would not be able to collect unemployment compensation during the summer months.

During the bid presentation, Szablowski said school administrators met with representatives from Quigley and BCIU after analyzing the proposals.

As a result of the meeting, Quigley made some changes, lowering its bid to $3,559,887. One of the changes was to eliminate the installation of an upgraded digital video system on each bus, which would save about $90,000 per year.

Quigley also agreed to change the fixed price of fuel from $1.85 per gallon to $2.10 per gallon with an annual adjustment of 10 percent as an allowance.

If the price exceeds the established price per gallon, the district would share in the excess cost. Raising the fixed price put more of the burden on Quigley if the price of fuel increases, Szablowski said.

After meeting with school administrators, the BCIU agreed to have a bus depot within the district, to attempt to hire most the existing drivers, to consider purchasing the Quigley vehicles and to adding the Boyertown name on the buses.

According to Stanley Kita, assistant executive director of the BCIU transportation department, the transportation component of the BCIU is not state funded, and the agency can provide less expensive contracts because it has "no profit motive."

"We charge for the cost of services," Kita said.

As a governmental entity, however, the BCIU does not bear the costs of unemployment or worker's compensation. The absence of those operating expenses allows BCIU to offer lower bids.

Kita said the BCIU wants to employ drivers who know the school district routes and the kids and usually hires 80 to 85 percent of existing drivers when it takes over a district contract. However, has its own wage scale that utilizes a bonus incentive system based upon performance and 900 hours of driving time.

The BCIU has provided bus transportation since 1996 to school districts, including Reading, Muhlenberg, Tulpehocken and Antietam. It has provided transportation for children with special needs since 1970, including students at the Boyertown Area School Disrict.

Contact assistant editor Diane Van Dyke at 610-367-6041, ext. 228 or

dvandyke@berksmontnews.com.

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