COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – Amid a barrage of concerns over actual costs and what will happen the 75 bus drivers, the Columbus school board contracts with a new company to provide bus service for about 4 thousand students transported every day of the school year. It’s been a tense month of debate and only time may tell whether it works out.
The Columbus School Board approved Tuesday night the proposal from Ecco Ride. And though it was a heated debate between board members voting 3 to 1, officials say they’re looking forward to making improvements.
“We had some different viewpoints on several different sides there, but I think everyone got their point across, especially the bus drivers. I do want them to be treated fairly as we go through this process. I was very pleased that a decision was made regardless of which vendor we chose,” said Craig Shannon, Deputy Superintendent.
School Board President Currie Fisher was one of the votes to approve the contract and says knowing Ecco Ride’s bid for the four-year contract was more than 1 million dollars less then the bid made by Waters Truck and Tractor helped sway her decision.
“I think it’s an excellent deal for taxpayers. We try to be very vigilant in monitoring the school expenditure so that we can save the taxpayers. We had to look at can we deliver the same service or better and how can we deliver that for less money if possible,” said Currie Fisher.
Ecco Ride will partner with Mayhew-based charter bus company ACR Coach. School board member Jason Spears and some bus drivers intensely questioned the deal and whether drivers would lose out, especially since they recently saw wage cuts and insurance increases under the deal that Waters had for the last four years. Addressing the bus drivers’ concerns will be one of the new contractor’s first steps.
“We want to work with the drivers in order for this to work, people have to understand we rely on the drivers. Without those drivers we can’t do our jobs. Those drivers are out there in the field everyday, they know the children, they know the parents, they know their jobs, we want to keep them happy,” said Tom McCaughey, President and CEO 0f Ecco Ride.
ARC says it is working now to structure a package that will at least be comparable to what the drivers had with Waters.
The buses used by the outside contractors are owned by the district. Waters Truck and Tractor representatives say they will work with A-C-R to make the transition on routes and drivers as smooth as possible before school starts in August.