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Sparta chooses private firm to bus students

Will work with Cedar Springs on routes that cross district lines

Children in the Sparta Area Schools district may still see some familiar faces behind the steering wheels of their school buses next fall but they won’t be employees of the district. That’s because Monday evening the Board of Education took Superintendent Kent Swinson’s recommendation to go with a private transportation firm that specializes in student transportation called METS (Michigan Education Transportation System) for busing all students on routes that don’t cross district lines into Cedar Springs.
For routes that do cross district lines, they will contract with Cedar Springs Public Schools to deliver the students. “Students will never leave district boundaries,” said Swinson.
Overall, between shared services and contracting out services, he said they should see a savings of $50,000 if not more.
The bus driver’s union also put a bid in for the work, and felt their bid would’ve saved the district more money. “The drivers Union worked hard to exceed the monetary amount the Superinendent was asking for, which was $30,000, and gave the Board of Ed over $120,000 in concessions, so we feel betrayed because we were told by the Superintendent they were only considering consolidation, NOT privatizing and they have now done both,” said Amanda Funk, Transportation Negotiation Representative. “We took those concessions to not disrupt the lives of our students and community members but SESPA’s proposal was not even considered, even though Board Member Lewis asked specific questions about that proposal. Again, we are very disappointed in the decision.”
Swinson acknowledged that they did make some concessions, but he said the bus driver’s numbers were not close to what they will be saving, and that they asked for too many limitations, which would have limited the savings. “It wasn’t just a fact of wages; there were other factors, too,” he said.
The move leaves 21 transportation workers without a job. But Swinson said that they would receive information from METS inviting them to an informational meeting and they would be given a chance to apply for the jobs. “METS will not advertise outside of this group for a period a time, so they will have the opportunity to work in the district.  I hope they do,” he said.
Last week the board approved $1.2 million in budget cuts, but still project a deficit of $1.8 million for next year.

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