Article

BUS BROUHAHA: SCHOOL DEPARTMENT DOUBLE CROSSES TAXPAYERS ON FLEET REPLACEMENT, AND LOTHROP, THE SWINE, CARRIES THE POISONED WATER

BY DAN VALENTI

First Add, April 16 into 17th, 2011

Briving a Dus, and Other Kramden-isms

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, April 16, 2011) — Busses, busses, who’s got the busses? And who’s going to pay for them. The bus story below is EXACTLY the kind of nonsense that must stop in the city of Pittsfield.

The Planet said this on the air five years ago when the School Department and City Council cooked up the plan: snooker the taxpayers into replacing the entire fleet. Promise it wouldn’t happen again. Promise to replace the bus fleet on a 20% annual basis. Then break the promises, so that in 2011, they would be asking taxpayers to replace the entire fleet.

NO! The answer this time MUST BE no. Pittsfield exceeds what it required by law in terms of bussing students. It’s time to pull back to the bare minimum, get the School Department our of the Transporation Business (which is rather like asking truckers to be teachers), and expect parents to take the responsibility for getting their kids to school. Taxpayers should not be asked to carry that part of the public education compact.

To that end, here is a recent article in Newsweek online, sent out way by Joe Pinhead, one of The Planet’s most astute tacticians. The Planet makes this assigned reading to every member of the council and school department.

Waving Goodbye to the Bus

As fuel prices rise, some districts are updating an old method of getting children to school.

Until last spring, Nia Parker and the other kids in her neighborhood who attend West Boulevard Elementary in Columbia, Mo., commuted to school on Bus 59. But as fuel costs have risen, the Columbia school district has needed to find a way to cut its transportation costs. So the school’s busing company redrew its route map, eliminating Nia’s bus altogether. Instead, Nia and her neighbors travel the half mile to school via a “walking school bus”—a group of kids, supervised by an adult or two, who make the trek together. “It’s healthier for them to walk,” says Melissa Clark, Nia’s mom, who approves of the change. Nia, a 9-year-old who’s in fourth grade, sees other advantages. Since the bus used to pick up many children along a circuitous route, walking to school is actually quicker. “I like it because I get to sleep late, and I don’t get as grouchy,” Nia says.

Like the rest of us, school districts are feeling pinched by rising fuel costs—and finding new ways to adapt. The diesel fuel that powers school buses now costs an average of $4.28 a gallon, up 34 percent in the past two years. Cities and states spend $14.7 billion annually transporting kids to school; for the typical school district, bus bills total 5 percent of the budget. As administrators look to trim, busing is an inviting target, since it doesn’t affect classroom instruction (or test scores). According to a survey done by the American Association of School Administrators in July, more than one third of school administrators have eliminated bus stops or routes in order to stay within budget. “When you have to make tough choices,” says Daniel Domench, executive director of the AASA, “you cut back on what’s least harmful.” In the Capistrano Unified School District in California—where there is no state requirement to transport students—two thirds of the district bus routes have been eliminated. “That’s 4,000 to 5,000 students that received it last year no longer getting transportation,” says transportation director Mike Patton. In New Hampshire, principal Karen Cloutier says that she expects one third of her elementary-school students will walk this year—even through rain and snow. “If there is school, we will walk,” she says. “And we rarely cancel school.”

Many parents are delighted to see their kids walking to school, partly because many did so themselves: in 1969, according to the National Household Travel Survey, nearly half of schoolkids walked or biked to school, compared with only 16 percent in 2001. Modern parents have been leery of letting kids walk to school for fear of traffic, crime or simple bullying, but with organized adult supervision, those concerns have diminished. “Parents are buying into it more and more,” says Susan Haynes, principal at Van Derveer Elementary in Somerville, N.J., which cut all its home-to-school transportation. Some kids like this change, too. “It’s like recess before school,” says Price Phillips, 9, who walks to school in Columbia, Mo., this year.

PICTURE REDACTED

Schools and busing companies are finding other ways to save by cutting field trips and redrawing athletic schedules to reduce the distances of “away” sporting events. In rural areas where busing is a must, some schools—like MACCRAY High School in Clara City, Minn.—have even opted for four-day school weeks. First Student Transportation, the leading U.S. school bus provider, is training drivers to eliminate extra stops from routes, to turn off the engine while idling and to check tire pressure every time they leave the lot. First Student is also using route-optimization software to determine the most fuel-efficient routes, which aren’t always the shortest ones. A few schools now use diesel-electric hybrid buses, which achieve 12 miles per gallon (compared with 7mpg for a traditional bus). But at $180,000, hybrids cost more than twice as much as a traditional diesel bus, so few schools have switched.

There could be downsides, however, to the busing cutbacks. If every formerly bused student begins hoofing it to school, it’s an environmental win—but if too many of their parents decide to drive them instead, the overall carbon footprint can grow. “On average, one school bus replaces 36 private vehicles,” says Mike Martin of the National Association for Pupil Transportation, a pro-busing advocacy group. Replacing buses with many more parent-driven minivans can also increase safety risks: Martin cites a 2002 report by the National Academy of Sciences that concluded students are 13 times safer on a school bus than in a passenger car, since buses have fewer accidents and withstand them better due to their size. And some students—including Murat Agca, a first grader in Columbia—complain about the long morning hikes, particularly when the route, like Agca’s, contains a really big hill. Still, these children have it easier than their parents’ generation—when, of course, all routes went uphill, both ways.

On a raw, spring day, The Planet is rested and restless. Contradiction? Sure. Like Walt Whitman, we contain multitudes.

First, let us share several quick observations pertaining to a festering issue you might have missed amongst the swirl of SteroidsGate, drug use, funny money, and other local scotches. The issue if school busses.

BUSSES: ANOTHER BROKEN DEAL FOR TAXPAYERS

* The school department wants 52 news busses. Estimated cost: $4.3 million. How does the bedraggled taxpayer fund this boondoggle in waiting? How can the city afford this? This is Pittsfield. No one has a clue.

* Didn’t the city get an entire new fleet in 2006? Didn’t the city go through this same ridiculous hand-wringing over the bus fleet at that time? Yes. Didn’t it make the wrong decision to remain in the bus business rather than contract out the service? Yes. (Schools should be about teaching kids. The school department DOESN’T HAVE THE EXPERTISE TO RUN A BUS COMPANY). And didn’t it promise that over each of the next five years, it would replace 20 percent of the fleet, so that by 2011, now, the city wouldn’t be in this position again? Yes. Guess what, my dear friends: they broke their word, “they” meaning councilors, the committee, and the School Department.

J-LO: HOW LOW AND J-LO GO? HE’s NOT CHUBBY CHECKER, THAT’S FOR SURE, the PHONY BASTARD.

* Ward 5′s lame duck (only he doesn’t know it) Jonathan Lothrop said, “It was absolutely clear they [the school committee] were going to incorporate that [purchase of new fleet] into their budget. It was explicitly stated at that time [2005].” to Lothrop’s opponents in the Ward 5 race this year: clip this quote. That’s how J-Lo removed any doubt that he’s dead in the water. No such thing was in the budget and there was no “explicit” understanding.

* The deal was that the suckers, I mean, taxpayers, would buy 52 buses all at once in 2005. That would be the last time the suckers, I mean, taxpayers, would be asked to do that. That’s when a 20% annual fleet replacement plan would begin. Only it didn’t happen. The School Department hasn’t been doing this. Thus, five years later, the suckers are being asked again: buy a new fleet.

* As he did on the airport and on so man other issues, Lothrop has shown his contempt for constituents, city residents, and taxpayers. He is the poster boy for “oily politician,” if not “phony bastard.”

* We close our bus discussion with a not-so-modest question. Why do taxpayers have to take on the job of getting kids to class in the first place? They are providing a “free” education to parents. Can’t the parents be responsible for getting their kids to school? Does anyone know what the minimum legal requirements are for school transportation in the Commonwealth?

———————————————–

BACK MONDAY. FOR NOW, “OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLE!” LOVE TO ALL.

29 Responses to “BUS BROUHAHA: SCHOOL DEPARTMENT DOUBLE CROSSES TAXPAYERS ON FLEET REPLACEMENT, AND LOTHROP, THE SWINE, CARRIES THE POISONED WATER”

  1. Dusty
    April 16, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

    and so let’s identify the individual in charge of the school committee who would have been overlooking such a deal. Who dropped the ball? Who screwed up BIG TIME? I am sure they have an excuse because no one in this administration has ever admitted to screwing up.

    Maybe all the money accidentally got redirected into the salaries of the school dept heads. Lord knows their budget is bloated beyond comprehension.

    and what is Rubertos take on this? Did someone screw up or do we just go to the taxpayer ATM with no questions asked as usual?

    Honestly, what a poorly run city..if this were a business it would have been bankrupt several years ago

    ooops…did I say bankrupt? wonder why that word was in my mind…

  2. Joetaxpayer
    April 16, 2011 at 2:43 pm #

    Ma.. law is to provide transportation for grades k-6 who are 2 miles or more from school.Of course Pittsfield goes above and beyond providing Kindergarden half mile raduis,1-8 one and half mile raduis and 7-12 2 miles.Dan Elias from the school committe states that if they went to the state min.it would effect attendance and drop out rate,Must disagree might even help with child hood obesity,and if a student does not want to be in school they wont go ride or no ride.If they stay in the bus bussiness they should go to the state min. which would cut down on busses and drivers.Also make the school dept. but aside money yearly for replacing busses in the future.

  3. JoeBlow
    April 16, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

    I wonder what the real cost of the drivers.

    • Guy N
      April 17, 2011 at 8:27 am #

      I hear they make $25 bucks per hour!

      • danvalenti
        April 17, 2011 at 9:17 am #

        GN
        $25/hour plus benefits worth another $8. Total cost to the Suckers: $32/hour

        • Guy N
          April 17, 2011 at 11:22 am #

          Dan I was just joking about $25 bucks per hour. I have a friend who drives bus and he gets $10.50 per Hr. No Bennys.

          • danvalenti
            April 17, 2011 at 5:23 pm #

            My joke on your joke. Next thing you know, people will believe it.

  4. Thornton
    April 16, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    The next thing will be new students.

  5. Joe Pinhead
    April 16, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

    After spending the millions on the buses the School department will need us to step up to the plate and open our pocket books to fight obesity. To do this we will need to spend millions on gym gear and playground equipment. Because we all know we can’t ask the kiddies to walk to school. The Streets are dangerous. How long before we here that the new busses are more fuel efficient and will reduce our carbon footprint? Hey Here’s an idea, lets have the school department ask EV worldwide to give back to the community and spot us a few electric buses.

  6. PITTSFIELD BELIEVER
    April 16, 2011 at 5:32 pm #

    Valenti ate at the Red lion inn Thiursday night with Buddy Lewis of the Colonials, Mayor Ruberto, and a couple of Guys in Suits. Lots of hush hush table in the corner main dining room Table doesn’t see a bill. Valenti is the power behind the throne of much of what of whats going on in official Pittsfield official corner office. Mayor Ruberto I think is going through a crisis or brain drain or else Valenti is using svengali magic.

    • danvalenti
      April 16, 2011 at 7:15 pm #

      People ask why I leave such posts up. Answer:
      * So people can see for themselves what bs The Planet has to put up with for The People, as we do our messiah-sacrificial lamb bit.
      * Truth makes such bs the nonsense that it is.
      * Good for business. Thanks PB

      • danvalenti
        April 16, 2011 at 7:16 pm #

        Just occurred to The Planet: PB can also mean Phony Bastard!

  7. Joe Pinhead
    April 16, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

    http://www.newsweek.com/2008/09/05/waving-goodbye-to-the-bus.html

    Now, I’m going to ask the school board and the City councilors a tuff question and to them not a fair one. Do we have a long term plan for school transportation? Does it address the needs as well as the desires and distinguish between them? What is our long term strategic plan to contain the costs to a portion of the budget? What is that portion? 5% 10% 95%? Is there someone in charge of the fleet who will be determining what type of fuel we should use for the new buses? Diesel? Natural gas? Electric? A mix? I bet that every private bus company has put together a “road map” of sorts to aid them in competing in a tuff market. What expectations should we the taxpayers and consumers of the service have? What criteria should we use to judge the “success” of the program? Will these issues even be discussed? Or will it just be “if we don’t get new busses all that is good in the world will be done, so we need to hurry. No need to take the time to develop a comprehensive plan. We know what’s best.

    I’m just sayin

    • danvalenti
      April 16, 2011 at 7:13 pm #

      Great post, which we shall make as our first add, the Newsweek piece, we mean. Joe, for a Pinhead, you’re a pretty smart guy. Say high to your brother Jack!

  8. Thornton
    April 17, 2011 at 8:41 am #

    Has anyone seen these babies cut the corners on these busses. No care, much wear, and dare not be near these contraptions when they come barrelling through. East Street has a twenty five mile per hour going by Pittsfield high School, where are the police? The cars and busses are routinely doing thirty five or more everyday.

    • danvalenti
      April 17, 2011 at 9:17 am #

      Great points. They often drive them recklesssly, beating the crud out of them? What kind of maintenance is done? The 25 mph section of East Street has been loaded with potholes. Heap Big Magic Pothole Machine notwithstanding, at 25 mph, it does a number on a vehicle. At 45, it destroys them. Who cares, though. The Suckers (taxpayers) will buy brand new ones for them to destroy.

      • Duke Dufour
        April 18, 2011 at 7:41 am #

        The rest of the county bids school bussing out. How else can I make enough money to belong to Pittsfield Country Club?

  9. THornton
    April 17, 2011 at 9:09 am #

    We should also have a lunger and heaving (puke) (vomit) ordinance. Every day, one can see spitting on our streets and puking, right on North street. The craftiest one was in front of the Post Office, where a young woman stopped her car in traffic and was puking in a pothole.

    • danvalenti
      April 17, 2011 at 9:14 am #

      I have seen the loogies and vomit. Signs of a town with a seedy nightlife.

  10. THornton
    April 17, 2011 at 9:32 am #

    Eh,Tiger spits all over the greens and have seen the infamous snot from the nostril, not unlike the pro hockey players do, poor Zamboni. Wonder if the city sweepers pick up the screws, bolts, glass and metal objects that are strewn from the dust sweepers, thought one was unloading its dust the other day instead of sweeping? Thank goodness we have sunshine for the saliva and loogies, sunshine it is our best disinfection.

  11. Thornton
    April 17, 2011 at 11:25 am #

    Can you believe what the mailman 2 the stars has had to endure over the years? He be good at hopscotch.

  12. PCP
    April 17, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

    The school department has given the charter school and other school choice systems in Berkshire County 3 MILLION dollars in fy 12 according to the STATE DOR CHERRY SHEET WEB SITE.Add 4.3 million(buses) and 3 million = 7.3 million DOLLARS. How much is that on the tax rate? How stupid or lazy are the city councilors,mayor and the school committee? Maybe mike ward, the school system city councilor, at least according to mike ward, should come up with the 7.3 million for all us good neighbors.

    • danvalenti
      April 17, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

      Mike Ward is a lame duck and seems to be playing out the string. He’s also mad at The Planet. He thinks we called him a “phony bastard.” We didn’t, so why would he even think that??

      • PCP
        April 17, 2011 at 5:44 pm #

        phony bastard may not be accurate, just ” phony “might have been an accurate assessment of a particular personality trait
        related to local democratic elected officials

  13. notho
    April 18, 2011 at 4:34 am #

    Planet… Question?

  14. notho
    April 18, 2011 at 4:39 am #

    Mike Ward is done. Lets leave him out of any more discussion. Ward One is HAPPY he is leaving. You could have nominated paint dry before giving the Orbit to him.

  15. San Simeon
    April 18, 2011 at 6:00 am #

    Where did Valenti eat, though. that’s the big story all the time, isn’t it PB, you moron?

  16. GMHeller
    April 19, 2011 at 12:50 am #

    Mr.Valenti,
    Not sure just how Pittsfield runs its bussing, but the school bussing contract in each of the other Berkshire County school districts is worth many millions of dollars to each of the respective bussing companies that have these contracts. It’s a lucrative operation.