Outside firm may handle school buses

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 9, 2011

By David Vitrano


RESERVE – With another budget shortfall anticipated for the upcoming fiscal year, the administration of the St. John the Baptist Parish School System has begun to look at different ways to save money without compromising service.

One of the paths it is considering is changing the way its bus fleet is managed and maintained. At Thursday’s School Board meeting, Executive Director of Business and Finance Felix Boughton asked the board to authorize administration to study alternatives and accept proposals on the matter.

“We have no other area to look at to reduce cost except support,” said Boughton. “There is no where else to cut.”

He continued, “If we can get a firm to come in, maybe they can help us be more efficient and save some money.”

Some board members, however, were not yet ready to turn the reins over to a third party. They seemed perplexed that the wording of the proposal — and the term “alternatives” in particular — was not apparently being interpreted in a broader way.

“You’ve got to think outside the box, Mr. Boughton,” said board member Russ Wise.

Superintendent Courtney Millet tried to clarify the the matter, saying, “The word ‘alternatives’ is alternatives to how we currently do it.”

One of the main sticking points with seeking outside help was the possibility of some district employees losing their jobs.

“Are we smelling privatization here?” asked board member Keith Jones.

Boughton assured him, “It still has to be negotiated with (St. John Association of Educators). They have to be a part of it.”

Board Vice President Clarence Triche, who presided over the meeting in the absence of President Patrick Sanders, sits on the Finance Committee and offered his insight.

“We will be in trouble if we don’t do something,” he said.

Despite the lengthy debate and a substitute motion offered by Gerald Keller, the original motion was the one passed by the board by a vote of 6-4. The motion is non-binding. It merely states that the administration is allowed to listen to proposals on the way the bus fleet is handled.

“It has to save us money or else we can’t even consider it,” said Boughton.

The school system of neighboring St. James Parish recently signed a contract with First Student to handle the operations of its bus fleet.

Boughton also sought approval from the board to postpone the preparation of the budget for the next fiscal year until July 1. It was necessary for him to seek this approval because the board has a policy stating the budget must be approved by July 1, which is the start of the next fiscal year. He noted the state does not require a budget to be passed until Sept. 15.

“I think it’s in your best interest to have a better handle on what your fund balance is,” said Boughton.

Boughton offered a general timeline for budget preparation, but several board members wanted a concrete end date for the budget process.

“Unless you can set an exact date, I can’t vote for it,” said board member Albert Burl III.

Burl then offered a substitute motion setting an Aug. 1 deadline for budget approval. The motion passed unanimously.